No matter how many talented chefs Michelle Obama invites to the White House, or how many vegetable costumes Jamie Oliver dons, it seems unlikely school nutritionists will ever be able to strike pizza from their cafeteria menus.
"You can't stop buying pizza for kids," says Sherry Brokenberry, food service supervisor for the Mansfield, Louisiana, school district and one of more than 5,000 participants in the School Nutrition Association's annual conference at the Dallas Convention Center this week. "I have pizzas in all of my high schools and middle schools, and in the elementary schools, we menu pizza at least once a month."
Brokenberry reports her students like their pies thick and round -- "They think we ordered it," she says with a laugh -- but legislators' tastes are a bit more persnickety. Pizza makers are now rewriting their recipes in response to new regulations governing school lunches, incorporating whole grains and drastically reducing fat. While the slimmed-down pies are currently available only to a scholastic audience, pizza companies such as Domino's say the lessons they learn in school cafeterias could eventually influence what they offer to the general public.
"It depends on demand," says Domino's Brand Innovation Vice President Brandon Solano. "If the demand is there, we'll carry it."
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Domino's new "Smart Slice," developed specifically for schools, features a whole-grain crust, reduced-sodium sauce, a thin coat of reduced-sodium "lite" mozzarella -- which clocks in at half the fat of traditional pizza cheese -- and reduced-fat pepperoni. As the Smart Slice brochure explains, "Two-thirds of all U.S. schools fall within a nine-minute drive time from a local Domino's store, which means we'll deliver the pizzas to you fresh and piping hot."
"Delivery's our gig," spokesperson Sandra Oswalt says.
A Smart Slice has about 340 calories and 600 mg of sodium, depending on the toppings. (A slice from a "hand-tossed," 16-inch standard pepperoni pizza from Domino's has 380 calories and 920 mg of sodium, according to the company's website.) Oswalt says the healthier pizza has been well-received by student testers:
"It tastes great and kids love it," she says.