Syracuse Schools students are about to be part of a statewide taste test, that will decide if Greek Yogurt is served for school lunches nationwide.
The U S Department of Agriculture has approved the NY pilot program at the urging of NY Senator Chuck Schumer, who says it will open big new markets to the state's Greek Yogurt producers, as well as dairy farmers here.
The pilot, which starts April 1st, will allow schools to use federal lunch moneys to buy Greek Yogurt.
Schumer is confident that students will come through in approving, based on sampling at districts around the state. He sees nationwide approval as opening new markets to the state's growing Greek Yogurt production.
It could also help dairymen, who are lobbying to allow more cows on smaller farms. The DEC is reviewing a waiver of environmental constraints that would smaller farms to go from 199 to 299 cows. The change would affect 800 dairy farms, according to the NY Farm Bureau, which hopes for a ruling this spring.
Getting ready to implement the test is not without its bumps.
The actual gudelines are not out yet, according to Syracuse City Schools Food Services Director Ken Warner
Just how the Greek Yogurt will be served also has to be worked out: it has twice as much protein as 'regular' yogurt, so only half the current 4-ounce servings would be needed to fit into present menus. But, the yogurt is packaged in 4 ounce cups, so there could be changes in the way its served. Right now, regular yogurt is offered along with a peanut butter and jelly, or a cheese sandwich to fit nutritional requirements. Warner says they could serve just the yogurt alone, especially for younger children, but it might not be filling enough for older students, so they may pair it with a muffin.
Even though all Syracuse School students are eligible for free breakfasts and lunches, Warner says the cost will also determine how Greek Yogurt is offered.
And, one more logistical issue: Food products are usually ordered three months in advance. They're looking at just weeks to make the April 1st deadline, though Warner says the city has targeted one school at least for the test, and that talks are on to get an Upstate Greek Yogurt maker to provide product for the pilot.
Warner is enthusiastic about introducing Greek Yogurt, saying that regular yogurt has already been on menus 4 or 5 years, and is popular. But he and other Food Services staffers will be watching.
"If a child tasted Greek Yogurt and it ended up in the garbage can, which we check to see what gets thrown away," says Warner, "'why would we force that onto a child?"
We will be watching Syracuse Schools, and other districts that participate in the pilot taste test, as well.