Although it's still summer, Pierre Foods, Inc. already is preparing for the upcoming school year. The Cincinnati-based processor says it has developed a new Smart Picks line of better-for-you meat, poultry and entree products for school foodservice operators.

While other food manufacturers have committed  to changing their products over the next two to five years, Pierre Foods says Smart  Picks will be ready to serve in school cafeterias when school begins this August. Officials say Pierre Foods’ new Smart Picks products will include a variety of items that have one or more of the following attributes: reduced sodium, a good source of protein, zero grams of trans fat, no hydrogenated  oils, made with whole grains, a good source of fiber and reduced fat.

“For more than 30 years, Pierre Foods has been creating school menu  options that contribute to a healthy lifestyle and Smart Picks is  the latest step in that progression,” says Bill Toler, CEO of Pierre  Foods. “In 1996, we developed our popular grilled teriyaki chicken dippers  as an alternative to fried chicken nuggets. Today, Pierre continues to  work closely with school foodservice directors, monitoring school menu  needs to ensure that its meal offerings are nutritious, while maintaining  high quality, taste and value.”

Pierre Foods’ Smart Picks line will offer schools more than 60 menu choices, including all-beef hamburger patties, which have 37 percent  less sodium than current patties; grilled chicken patties, which contain  less than 15 percent of the recommended daily allowance of sodium; and macaroni and cheese, which is made with whole grain pasta and is an  excellent source of protein.

Toler says Pierre Foods spent more  than a year developing Smart Picks’ proprietary recipes. Nearly  2,000 students recently taste-tested products from Pierre’s Smart  Picks line and liked these items as well as or better than similar Pierre school menu items.

“Pierre recognizes that childhood obesity is a serious issue and  applauds First Lady Michelle Obama’s efforts to combat the problem,” adds Toler. “As a company that serves 90 of the nation’s 100 largest school districts, we are constantly challenging ourselves to create new products  for schools with reduced sodium and fat content, but that students will  still choose and enjoy. We are delighted that our Smart Picks  will provide more opportunities for children to eat ‘smarter’ school meals  starting this fall.”