Recreation / Health

Sportsplex puts its convections to the test

July 5, 2014 

— It’s not like chicken tenders are being tossed out the door, but the savory snack pieces will have to change their ways if they’re to stay on the menu at the Orange County Sportsplex.

So will French (un)fries. And pizzas will change, too.

Following the growing trend of fitness facilities doing away with unhealthy cooking techniques for healthier alternatives, the Sportsplex has replaced its fryer with a convection oven to use in its snack bar.

“It’s not like people won’t be able to get snacks,” said Stacy Shelp of the Orange County Health Department. “People can get chicken tenders, but they will be baked instead of fried.”

The switch from a fryer to a convection oven will eliminate fried foods from the fitness facility altogether, while enabling its snack bar to include healthier versions of popular items like potato fries and chicken tenders.

Convection ovens, sometimes called “fan ovens,” blow air around food as it cooks. This distributes the heat more effectively and reduces the cooking time. In most cases, this also helps crisp the food instead of making it soggy.

Sportsplex patrons had asked for healthier food options, Shelp said. “Option” was the operative word. While New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to outlaw oversized snacks — and got slapped down by the courts — Orange County has tried to let people make their own choices.

“Membership and clientele have been asking for healthier food options, and we are looking forward to providing that to them,” says Mary Catherine McKee, Membership and Marketing Manager for the Orange County Sportsplex. “We are a fitness facility and we feel it is important to offer healthy food options to not only our members but to everyone that comes to our facility.”

The replacement of the fryer is the latest in a string of changes the Sportsplex has made to improve the nutritional content of the food it serves the public.

“You can still get your favorite snack food, but healthier versions of them,” Shelp said.

In June 2013, the Sportsplex snack bar was assessed by a registered dietician, using standards from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. The resulting report outlined suggestions to increase access to healthy food options. These included:

• Providing approximately 700 healthy lunches to children in their summer camp programs;

• Removing fried items from the camp lunch options;

• Replacing snack bars high in sugar, with bars that meet the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s standards;

• Reducing the number of sugar and candy options;

• Trying pizza options which are lower in sodium and have whole grain crust;

• Adding nutrition education articles in their newsletter.

The new oven was purchased with a matching grant from the Orange County Health Department’s Innovation Grant program.

“I think this is a great example of collaboration between the County and a private vendor that will benefit the health of our children and families,” says Liska Lackey, a member of the Orange County Board of Health. “Because of this collaboration, it is a win-win for everyone.”

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