By Patrick White 2013-09-02 23:45:24
A Fresh Take on Fresh Prep A variety of food processors and other tools offer improved productivity. Maybe you’ve already given into temptation or curiosity and ordered the Slap Chop. You know, the one “seen on TV” where Vince, the over-caffeinated infomercial guy, is yelling, “It dices! It slices! It will make your life more interesting!” If not, save yourself $19.95 on the gimmicky device and instead consider purchasing a quality food processor, slicer, mixer, blender or other device capable of cutting all sorts of school nutrition food prep challenges down to size. These days especially, the right food prep tools can pay big dividends in school kitchens. Changes in meal pattern regulations have some district operations looking to food processors (and other smallwares) to help prepare menu items that will be acceptable both to the government and to young customers. Focus on Fresh Kimberly Eros, brand segment marketing manager with Hobart, observes that since the new regulations have taken effect, “There has definitely been an increase in the offerings of fresh fruits and vegetables—there seems to be somewhat of a resurgence of doing more fresh prep.” Schools, for example, have added more fresh salad and fruit bars. And even in schools that rely mainly on retherm, “that doesn’t mean there isn’t some fresh prep happening on site,” notes Eros. “We think there is probably a pretty big need for food prep equipment.” As menu changes drive more schools to fresh prep, some for the first time in decades, food processors and other related equipment can make the task faster and more efficient. For years, many schools abandoned fresh prep in favor of more processed items in an effort to keep a lid on labor costs. Today, however, modern food prep tools can make the process easier than it once was. While Eros concedes that training is required to get the most out of such equipment, such instruction is less involved than teaching manual food prep skills, so there’s a labor savings in that regard, as well. For smaller school nutrition operations, particularly those without a central production kitchen, Eros recommends Hobart’s FP100 food processor. “It can pretty much slice and dice anything you want to do with fresh fruits and vegetables,” she explains. That unit has a capacity of up to 11 pounds per minute (660 lbs./hr.). Meanwhile, she says Hobart’s FP400 is better suited for larger-yield kitchens. “It can create a lot more volume in a lot shorter time,” Eros states of this unit, which is capable of processing up to 88 pounds per minute (5,280 lbs./hr.) with two speed settings. Eros also reports a steady demand for slicers. “I’ve seen many schools putting in place fresh sandwich programs in order to have different offerings, like [stations at] a mall food court,” she explains. Hobart’s Edge 12, for example, is designed for busy operations that may slice for up to two and a half hours per day. The unit is designed for precision to slice meat and cheese without shredding. Slice and Dice Univex also offers slicers, ranging from the company’s economy 4610 light-duty manual slicer, which can slice up to 1/2-in. pieces, up to its premium series of heavy-duty slicers, which cut up to 7⁄8-in. slices and offer various speed settings. Depending on enrollment and participation, school kitchens might be best served by the mid-range value series, with both manual and semi-automatic models available. One company offering a range of multi-purpose and specialized slicers is Electrolux. Its Multi Green model is billed as a “combination vegetable slicer and cutter mixer all in one,” capable of preparing fresh vegetables, as well as sauces. For example, the unit can be quickly changed from a slicer to a food processor, allowing it to slice up to 550 pounds of vegetables per hour or be used to prepare 2+-lb. batches of mayonnaise. Liquids can be added through the top while processing, and operators can purchase a variety of blades for shredding, grating and so on. For dedicated slicing, Electrolux’s TRS vegetable slicers can slice, shred, grate and dice up to 1,212 pounds per hour, and they include an oversized hopper to eliminate the need to pre-cut large, unwieldy vegetables. Smaller operations might be more interested in the company’s Mighty Green line of vegetable slicers, which can slice, shred or grate up to 440 pounds per hour in a smaller size unit still capable of handling longer vegetables such as carrots or zucchini. Robot Coupe’s business is dedicated entirely to food processors and related products, and thus it offers a model for just about every type of operation and menu. For high-volume high school settings, one model the company recommends is its R602V dual-function food processor with vegetable prep and bowl assemblies. The unit is capable of preparing 3,000 vegetable servings in less than three hours and comes with a 7-qt. stainless steel bowl. There are 39 discs to choose from, and a recommended “school package” includes various size slicing discs to manage everything from slicing tomatoes or onions for sandwiches to slicing lettuce for salads. Grating, julienne and dicing discs also are available. For smaller elementary schools, one suggested option is the R2Dice Ultra food processor, which also offers dual functions and can prepare 850 servings in three hours using a 3-qt. stainless bowl. The product comes with 26 discs, and once again, a special “school package” is available that includes those discs most commonly used in school nutrition programs. Pam Morris, marketing assistant with Robot Coupe, says she’s seen increased interest in food processors lately among school nutrition operations. “More and more schools are offering salad bars…,” she states, “and Robot Coupe [units] can do anything that’s needed as far as preparing a salad bar—they’re really perfect for that application.” Using such equipment also is much faster than processing by hand and less expensive than purchasing pre-packaged vegetables, she contends. According to Morris, schools are using Robot Coupe food processors to improve the presentation of the foods they serve, while making them more appealing to students in other ways, as well. “For example, children are not going to want to take a whole carrot, or even a big carrot stick. They’re going to want the shavings, or small carrot slices or even diced,” she asserts. “It’s easier for them to get the vegetables from the salad bar that way.” And with the company’s line of food processors, custom cutting is easy to change, depending on the age of the children or the meal being served—or simply for the sake of variety. Waring also offers a wide variety of food processors in sizes ranging from 2 1/2 to 6 quarts, with certain models offering continuous-feed chutes. The company’s largest FP2200 model with continuous feed, for example, can dice up to 950 pounds (425 quarts) of tomatoes; slice 1,400 pounds (1,275 quarts) of cucumbers per hour; or shred 1,025 pounds (1,050 quarts) of carrots per hour. For those with more modest needs, the FP25 (without continuous feed) can slice 540 pounds (345 quarts) of cucumbers per hour; shred 200 pounds (240 quarts) of carrots per hour; and grate 45 pounds of cheese per hour. The latter model can be ordered with either clear or stainless steel batch bowls. The Right Blend An old-school food prep tool that’s helping schools identify creative solutions to meeting new meal pattern regulations is the trusty blender. Persuading kids to actually eat the fruits and vegetables served to them is a serious challenge, observes Jill Hunt, national account manager with Vitamix. Armed with the right information, a blender can help, she says. Blenders can help give schools more flexibility in the foods they serve, along with some cost savings to boot. “Our thought is that if we can help [schools] use commodity items, then maybe they can put a little more money into their wholegrain pizza dough, for example,” she notes. A Vitamix representative recently developed three tasty and nutritious recipes that can be prepared with a blender. ■ Breakfast Cobbler Smoothie, featuring oats. “The breakfast trend is really strong, and we hear schools saying they need something that’s simple and easy to clean up, and everyone keeps pushing pancakes at them,” says Hunt. “The smoothie almost tastes like a pie, but there are no added sugars in it. And we’re actually incorporating the frozen blueberries that come as a commodity, but which schools aren’t sure what to do with anymore because they [aren’t permitted to] add sugar.” ■ Pizza Sauce. “We put sweet potatoes into the pizza sauce to give it a sweetness. And sweet potatoes are another low-cost commodity item for schools,” explains Hunt. ■ Hummus. “So, instead of handing a child 4 ounces of chickpeas that they’re never going to eat, we’re trying to offer [schools] blending solutions,” she states, noting that “the trends show that hummus and salsa are going through the roof” and are the types of foods that can be prepared with blenders and food processors. Vitamix is providing school nutrition programs with free recipe cards that include food specs. [Editors’ Note: You also can find these recipes at www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonuscontent.] For high-volume school nutrition programs, Hunt says that Vitamix’s XL blender is a good choice. “You can take tomatoes and a sprig of basil, for example, and make fresh tomato soup. It does a full gallon-and-a-half,” she explains. That unit also comes with a smaller (64-oz.) container, allowing schools to make their own salad dressings. “If you buy salad dressings, you can’t control the fat or sugar or salt content, and you’re probably spending $35 to $42 per gallon. If you make it yourself, you can make the same quantity for about $6. So, it’s another way to cut costs and control what the students are being served.” For smaller kitchens, Hunt says the Vita-Prep is one of the company’s most popular machines. It’s also a lower-priced option for school nutrition teams to experiment and see if a blender-based food prep program will work for their operations. “You also can order extra containers with it, so you can always be prepping and blending at the same time,” she explains. Hamilton Beach’s commercial line divides its blenders into units designed for blending drinks and those made for blending food. Models designed for food certainly can do more than just blend. For example, the company’s High-Performance Food Blender HBF500 can chop, grind, blend, purée and emulsify; it features a dial to lock in the desired speed for various functions. Multiple 48-oz. polycarbonate containers can be ordered to help boost production; these are stackable for easy storage. The company’s Food Blender 990-220 offers higher-volume production and can be used for salsas, dips, soups, sauces, smoothies and more. A 4.55-lt. stainless steel container includes two metal clamps and handles to make it easy to secure tightly during operation and transport after blending. Tools You Can Truly Use With the variety of food processors, mixers, blenders, slicers and more on the market that support today’s greater interest in onsite prep of fresh fruits and vegetables, you’re likely to find the tool just right for your program’s needs. “I doubt that every school is going to go back to scratch cooking, but I think there is a resurgence in using fresh foods,” reiterates Hobart’s Kimberly Eros. Operators can take advantage of this host of products to build excitement among students for the widest range possible of fresh-prepared fruits and vegetables. Patrick White is a freelance writer in Middlesex, Vt., and a former assistant editor of this publication. Equipment photos courtesy of Hobart, Univex, Electrolux, Robot Coupe, Waring, Vitamix and Hamilton Beach. For More Information Following is a list of some companies that offer food processors, blenders, slicers and other specialty cutters. ■ Electrolux www.electroluxprofessional.com ■ Hamilton Beach www.hamiltonbeach.com ■ Hobart www.hobartcorp.com ■ Robot Coupe www.robotcoupeusa.com ■ Univex www.univexcorp.com ■ Vitamix www.vitamix.com ■ Waring www.waringcommercialproducts. com
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
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