Why the World Doesn’t Need a “Healthy” Twinkie

Guest Blog By: Chef Coleen Donnelly

  • School Food Operations
  • August 03, 2016
  • Comments

I have been involved in school lunch reform for 16 years.  My current title is Corporate Chef, K-12 Segment at a company that sells rice, grains and legumes.  In July, we exhibited at the School Nutrition Association’s Annual Conference for the fifth year in a row.  And while that doesn’t make me a veteran, I've participated enough to know that our booth on the exhibitor floor is an anomaly. We feature super healthy, intact grain blends and always have something fun, delicious, and USDA compliant to sample.

I generally keep my head down at these shows and don't stray too far from the booth.  I’m often too busy sampling to those who say “You are the only real food here!”   And, I can't bear to see the junk people are marketing to kids.  While SNA should be taken to task for allowing so much of it on the floor, that's for another blog.   Row after row of pizza, chicken nuggets, donuts and other junk food copycat products vie for attention.  I thought I had seen it all, but I wasn’t ready for this newcomer.

I approached the company’s booth and saw a beautiful array of packaged, sprouted grain flours.  They were lovely products that in the right hands could be made into artisan baked goods worthy of a fine restaurant.  But that wasn't what they chose to develop with their flours.  Instead, they made an organic, sprouted grain Twinkie.  You read that right, the picture is below.  Oh, and they are also developing a chocolate flavor, which will hit the shelves soon.

There is nothing creative about this. This seemingly benevolent company (who shall remain nameless, along with their product) has gone down the wrong road.  What manufacturers need to be doing is raising the bar on school food, not slinking under it with products that undermine authentic, healthy food.  We have a responsibility to help food service directors and their staffs change the culture of school food through our products.  Too many companies take the easy road and create the junk food they think can be quickly sold instead of doing the harder work of developing products that will help end the health crisis so many kids are facing. To make matters worse, the copycat Twinkie-like thing didn't come with a product formulation statement because they rushed it to market and "haven't had time to do that research," they told me.  Oops, the first ingredient is white flour.  Fail.

And how did it taste?  I can only describe the flavor as "off" and the mouthfeel as "slimy," as in that gross feeling you get when you eat something that immediately coats your mouth. You can't un-feel it for a long time.

Changing school food is hard work.  Products like this one mock the efforts of those who fight for kids to have access to real food.  I challenge the R&D chefs working for food manufacturers to step up their game.  Many schools are not yet in a position to scratch cook and must rely on pre-packaged foods.  But it doesn’t have to be a Twinkie. 

 

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