Category Archives: School Lunch

Is junk food part of the USDA’s new school nutrition standards?

Dinner for dozensHere at FoodFacts.com we spend a lot of time talking about the nutritional uselessness of junk food. We’ve also spent a considerable amount of blog space talking about the new School nutritional standards and how they do seem to be improving the cafeteria consumption of our kids throughout the country. Today, however, we read about an interesting turn of events regarding those new nutritional standards and junk food. It’s fascinating how food manufacturers easily adapt to new definitions and how easily standards can be “bent.”

This week in Boston, the School Nutrition Association held a meeting where food manufacturers exhibited their new and “acceptable” products.

It appears that from the kinds of junk-food products exhibited, you would never know that the SNA was at war with the White House over USDA’s nutrition standards for school meals.

Food companies seem to have had no problem coming up with look-alike products that meet USDA standards:

More than 400 exhibitors showed off their innovations designed to meet the Department of Agriculture’s new regulations…PepsiCo, which owns Tropicana, Quaker and Lays, has a long list of products that meet the new rules, including Reduced Fat Doritos and Cheetos, Stacy’s Pita Chips and Munchies. Windsor Foods, which specializes in food service, has come up with whole grain-rich egg rolls that the company says kids love.

General Mills displayed a modified version of Chex Mix, a whole grain Betty Crocker cookie and a Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal bar: “Snacks so good, kids won’t know they’re nutritious,” according to the marketing flyers.

While the changes to lunch standards may be giving many school nutrition professionals fits, the food manufacturing industry is drooling over the opportunity to gain more sales inside what has been described as the nation’s largest restaurant: The school lunch program serves 30 million kids each day and represents a $30 billion per year market for the food industry, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The SNA benefits from the food industry’s enthusiasm in school lunches. The largest chunk of the group’s revenue is generated at its annual conference, which brought in $4.7 million in 2012. The association charges $15,000 to sponsor an education session track featuring a company representative and $20,000 to put company logos on hotel key cards.

To understand what this is about, take a look at the Public Health Advocacy Institute’s report on Copycat Snacks in Schools. The “better for you” versions are sold in schools, but you can hardly tell the difference between those and the “not so good for you” commercial versions from the nearly identical packages.

How can food and beverage companies get away with this? This is the result of USDA’s setting nutrient-based, rather than food-based standards for school meals. Setting nutrient standards allows food companies to tweak the formulas to give the USDA what it requires.

Better-for-you Chex Mix, reduced-fat Doritos, Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal Bars. Did anyone at the SNA take a look at the ingredient lists of these “improved” snack products? Do the terms “reduced fat” and “whole grain” completely define a product as nutritionally beneficial? We already know that package terminology means little in the grocery aisles. So why should those terms make a difference in school cafeterias? It’s not just the food industry that can do better here. It’s the School Nutrition Association and the USDA as well. Just our two cents.

http://www.foodpolitics.com/2014/07/school-nutrition-association-junk-foods-galore-but-they-meet-usdas-nutrition-standards/

More kids are eating more fruits and vegetables at lunch

lunches.jpgThere’s news coming in about the effect of the new nutritional guidelines for U.S. schools and it does appear to be encouraging. New standards went into effect in 2012 that required students to include at least one fruit or vegetable on their lunch trays.

A new study that’s been released from the Harvard School of Public Health  clearly shows that there are students who are eating more fruits and vegetables at lunch. Of course, they’re still tossing plenty of produce into the trash, researchers are taking the results as an encouraging sign.

While the study is limited to 1,030 students at low-income elementary and middle schools in the Boston area, it is the first to track student trays from the lunch line to the trash can since the new standards became effective.

In addition to requiring the addition of a fruit or vegetable with lunch, the standards have made vegetable servings bigger and have provided a greater variety of vegetables from which students can choose. They also limit calories and sodium and call for more whole grains than in the past. Some anecdotal reports suggest students nationwide are throwing away more food as a result.

“But the new standards are actually improving diets,” at least at the schools studied, says lead researcher Juliana Cohen.

Research teams visited each school twice before the changes, in fall 2011, and twice after the changes, in fall 2012. They noted tray contents in the lunch line and then collected the numbered trays and weighed the leftovers after lunch. Among key findings:

• All students took entrees, which included foods such as pizza, burgers and sandwich wraps. They ate 88% of those foods in 2012, vs. 72% in 2011.
• 68% took vegetables in both years. They ate 41% in 2012, vs. 25% in 2011.
• 76% took fruit in 2012, up from 53% in 2011. They ate 55% in 2012, down slightly from 58% in 2011 – but because more students chose fruit, overall consumption rose, researchers say.

Kids threw away huge amounts of fruits and vegetables, but the study shows that was happening before the change, Cohen says.

The findings come as school food service directors, represented by the School Nutrition Association, are in Washington, D.C., lobbying Congress to eliminate mandatory servings of fruits and vegetables and slow down other changes. They cite a report just out from the U.S. Government Accountability Office showing a 3.7% decline in students taking school lunches.

“Our members have always encouraged students to take fruits and vegetables, but it’s counterproductive to force it,” especially for older students, says Leah Schmidt, president of the association and director of nutrition services at the Hickman Mills School District in Kansas City, Mo. “There are students who will not eat a fruit or vegetable, and as they get older, they feel they have that right.”

She says the new study is “a very small sample… but I’m glad some schools are experiencing that” increase in fruit and vegetable consumption.

“Kids are picky,” and change is hard, says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group that fought for tougher standards. Schools can reduce waste and get more kids on board without weakening the standards, she says.

“Many schools are working really hard not only to improve the nutritional quality of their offerings but to improve the kid appeal,” she says.

Those of us with children might think back to our pediatrician’s advice when it came to feeding our toddlers. It was simply to offer a variety of healthy food choices for them to try. Improving the nutritional quality of the food choices in our schools and offering a wider variety of fruits and vegetables actually echoes the advice given to parents for their little ones.

When schools followed the new rules and offered foods with better nutritional value, our kids made better choices at lunch because the choices given were better. In addition, when required to choose a fruit or a vegetable while being given a wider array of selections, more kids actually ate the fruit or vegetable. FoodFacts.com does think this is largely about the choices given. Yes, we know that there’s still plenty of produce that finds its way to the trash can, but we certainly don’t think we should be taking steps to reverse or slow down any of these changes. We know most children aren’t ecstatic about fruits and vegetables. Whatever we can do to help them eat more of them during lunch should be done. And we should all feel encouraged that there are some indications that lunch habits seem to be improving.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/03/04/school-lunch-rules-vegetables-fruit/5979683/

Smaller serving pieces of fruit can help kids consume their recommended daily requirements!

Most of us here at FoodFacts.com love biting into a big, juicy apple, or peeling an orange and enjoying the whole fruit – the same holds true for pears, and bananas. It really hadn’t occurred to us that there might be kids all over the country who are turned off to eating fruit based on the simple concept that bite-sized pieces are more appealing to them.

A new study from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab takes a closer look at why children are avoiding fruit in the school cafeteria line and if, perhaps, that “ready-to-eat”, no additional work required appearance could, in fact, encourage kids to consume more fruit. While most believe that children avoid fruit because of the taste and the competition fruit faces from packaged snacks, the researchers wanted to dig deeper and see if there were really other reasons for kids to pass fruit up in their school cafeterias.

The researchers designed a pilot study that included eight elementary schools within the same district. First, they gave each school a commercial food slicer and instructed cafeteria personnel to use it when a child requested an apple. The fruit slicer cut the apple into six pieces and took between three and four seconds to use on each apple. Initial results of the pilot study showed that fruit sales increased by an average of 61% when the apples were sliced for the kids. They then interviewed the students and found out that they disliked eating fruit in school for two main reasons. The first was that for the younger kids, who might be wearing braces or be missing a few teeth, a whole fruit was inconvenient to eat. Older girls stated that they felt they looked unattractive eating a whole fruit in front of other kids and were self conscious about it. The sliced fruit solved both these issues for the children.

The researchers then expanded the pilot study to confirm the initial findings by adding six middle schools in the same district. Three of the six were given the fruit slicers while the others continued normal cafeteria operations, acting as a control. The fruit slices were placed in cups in two of the three schools and on a try in the third school. To accurately access actual consumption, field researchers were assigned to every school to record how much of the apple was wasted by counting the number of slices thrown away by each student.

These results showed that sales of apples in the schools using the fruit slicers increased by 71% compared to the control schools selling the whole fruit. Most importantly, researchers found that the percentage of students who ate more than half of the apple they purchased increased by 73%.

This pilot study showed that, in fact, taste and competition from processed snacks may not be the reason kids aren’t consuming fruit in school. When the fruit was made easier to eat, more kids were purchasing it and, most importantly, more of them were eating more of it. So for a small investment ($200 for the slicers) kids were encouraged to make healthier choices and waste less of the choices they made.

What a great, simple idea! FoodFacts.com hopes that this study gets the recognition it deserves from school districts all over the country. We wonder if these researchers are actually on to something for adults as well.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130417165007.htm

New report raises concerns about mercury levels in school lunch tuna

Back in late August, FoodFacts.com took a look at the new federal regulations regarding school lunches. We were generally pleased about the new rules, and felt that, even if there are some rough spots along the road, these new regulations were a great start at nutritional improvements for our children. Today, we have found one of those bumps in the road.

A new report recently published by the Mercury Policy Project has found that tuna being sold to our schools may contain higher levels of mercury than previously understood. This report is the first of its kind, testing the different brands sold to school systems. The report comes with recommendations for parents and schools on limiting children’s consumption of these products. Some children may be at greater risk from mercury in tuna than previously thought, finds a new study by the Mercury Policy Project (MPP).

It’s an extremely detailed report and it contains solid advice on the amounts and types of tuna that can be consumed by kids. (See link below.) While it is noted that most children consume only moderate amounts of tuna and are not at risk of mercury problems, it does remain true that some kids really prefer the canned fish over other school lunch offerings. That’s the group of kids that are at significant risk from the mercury content. Health experts are encouraging parents and schools to restrict the frequency of their tuna offerings during lunch. In addition, they are stating that no albacore tuna should be served to kids at all, and to consider lower-mercury replacements for tuna such as canned salmon.

It was found that limiting tuna consumption for twice per month for most children and once per month for kids under 55 pounds would help to curb mercury exposure. Since light tuna has one-third as much mercury as albacore, albacore should be off the menu completely. Canned tuna is the biggest source of mercury in our diets. The report tested mercury content in 59 canned tuna samples from eight different brands that are sold to schools in eleven different states.

Kids in the United States eat twice the amount of canned tuna than any other fish. It’s inexpensive and supplies low-fat protein – plus it’s a fish that kids actually like. And since the new federal regulations do call for leaner protein sources, tuna is served consistently in our cafeterias. The following advice is directly from the report:

• Children should not eat albacore tuna. Albacore or “white” tuna contains triple the mercury level of light tuna; nothing justifies tripling a child’s mercury dose.
• Children weighing more than 55 pounds should not eat more than two servings of light tuna per month. This amount of tuna (six ounces) is more than the average child currently consumes; the mercury dose it contains is acceptably low in risk.
• Children up to 55 pounds should consume no more than one tuna meal per month. Because of their smaller body size, an added margin of caution is appropriate for younger children.
• “Tuna-loving” kids should be the focus of risk-management efforts. In particular:
o No child should eat tuna every day. (Tuna Surprise presents cases of children who did that, and were diagnosed with clinical methylmercury poisoning.)
o Parents and schools should offer children other seafood choices, such as shrimp and salmon, which are just as nutritious but contain far less mercury.
• The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s School Lunch Program should phase out commodity purchases of canned tuna, and replace it with lower-mercury alterative seafood items and other extra-lean protein sources.
• Parents should monitor their children’s canned tuna consumption at school and ensure that the total consumed at home and at school does not exceed the recommendations for exposure.

FoodFacts.com wanted to make our community aware of this important information. If you have kids yourself, or in your network, it’s information we should all pay attention to during this school year.

We invite you to read more: http://www.cspinet.org/new/201209191.html
http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/tunasurprise.pdf

What’s happening now: how new federal regulations are changing school lunch menus

FoodFacts.com is happy to report that as our children are getting ready to go back to school, or are already beginning their new academic year, there are many changes happening in their cafeterias nationwide. Those changes aren’t just happening to the menus offered in our schools, they’re also affecting how school lunch workers are approaching their jobs … which may just turn out to be the key to instilling healthier eating habits in cafeterias.

Here are the basics of the changes you can expect:

• Maximum weekly calorie and sodium limits have been established for different student age groups. The limits for sodium intake are being gradually phased in over the coming decade, but there are changes that have been made for this school year. Establish maximum calorie and sodium limits for meals. The sodium limits are phased in over 10 years.

•Schools must now serve a fruit and vegetable every day at lunch and in larger portions than offered before. Portion sizes vary by age group. For instance, high school students will have to be offered one cup of vegetables and one cup of fruit a day.

•Additionally, they must now offer a minimum number of leafy green vegetables, red/orange vegetables, starchy vegetables and legumes per week. These serving sizes will also vary by student age – in high school, kids must be offered at least half a cup.

• After the second year of the new regulations, all grains offered to students must be rich in whole grains such as brown rice. Breads, buns, cereals and pastas must list whole grain as the first ingredient.

• Flavored milk, such as chocolate, must now be fat-free.

•There can be no trans fat at all in any foods offered.

Of course, you’ll still be seeing some familiar items on the menus … there will be cheese pizza and submarine sandwiches … but these offerings will be prepared using whole wheat dough and whole wheat rolls. And, unfortunately, French fries wills still count as a vegetable – but they will be baked or roasted and not fried and will have less salt on them than before. And none of the new regulations deal with ingredient lists or preservatives(excepting the exclusion of products containing trans fat), but it is at least a starting point that can be built on in the coming years.

The good news is that the School Nutrition Association has been holding conferences for cafeteria workers to help them take an active role in student lunch choices. Here they are being encouraged to actively motivate kids to make healthier choices on the lunch line. Part of that will be marketing the food to the children. Everything from how the food is laid out on the line and how it is labeled will hopefully be very different. For instance, give the vegetable of the day a more interesting name than just the vegetable itself so that the label holds more attraction for the students. Place baskets of fruits and veggies by the checkout – instead of unhealthier options. There’s research that proves that kids are more apt to pick up the grab and go item at the checkout than when it’s placed elsewhere. But most importantly, the workers are being encouraged to speak with the kids about the foods being offered that day … to promote them by interacting with the kids, just as though they were the wait staff at a restaurant promoting daily specials to customers.

Overall, FoodFacts.com thinks these efforts are a wonderful beginning for our kids in the cafeteria line. After all, what good is revamping the lunch choices if those choices remain uneaten? With better choices and a little encouragement, we may very well see kids at every grade level becoming more adventurous with their lunch line selections. And it’s possible that as the program moves forward, we can advocate for further regulations regarding the products chosen based on their ingredient lists.

Read more:
http://yourlife.usatoday.com/fitness-food/diet-nutrition/story/2012-01-25/Government-requires-more-fruits-veggies-for-school-lunches/52779404/1
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/16/school-lunch-quiz_n_1790435.html#quiz_4390
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/20/back-to-school-what-stude_n_1812994.html?utm_hp_ref=food&ir=Food
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20120821/us-back-to-school-lunches/