Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What's New In The School Food Business? More Policies, Standards, and Regulations

We have heard about the increased whole grain and fruit offerings that took effect in schools as of July 1, 2014.  What other initiatives are being implemented as part of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act?

Wellness Policy Re-writes
Back in 2006, all schools participating in the National School Lunch Program had to have Wellness Policies.  Some were long, some were short, some were strong, some were weak.  Now, policies need at least the following:
·         a committee of stakeholders to update and monitor the policy
·         a way to measure effectiveness
·         a way to communicate the policy and its success to parents.

Professional Standards
School nutrition professionals at all levels for all size school districts will be held to certain minimum education standards as well as continuing education goals.  This is in addition to certifications that are currently available through the School Nutrition Association.

Smart Snacks In Schools
All  food and beverages that compete with school meals ("competitive foods") now have more specific restrictions.  All food and beverages available for sale to students on the school campus during the school day, including snacks sold in the lunch line, school stores or snack bars, vending machines and as fundraisers must be:

·         whole grain rich OR
·         be a combination food that contains at least 1/4 cup fruit or vegetable OR
·         have a fruit or vegetable or dairy or protein food as the first ingredient OR
·         contain 10% of the Daily Value of nutrients of public health concern (as defined by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines - calcium, potassium, Vitamin D and dietary fiber)

Snacks and entrees must also meet specific nutrient requirements:
·         Snacks 200 and entrees 350 calories or less per serving
·         Snacks 230 and entrees 480 mg of sodium per serving.
·         35-10-35 (the industry code for 35% or less calories from fat, 10% of less calories from saturated fat, and 35% or less weight from sugar)
·         Zero grams of trans fat

Some kid favorite snacks may still be sold but in whole grain formulations and in smaller portions to meet these restrictions. Some entrees are exempt if they met current criteria for foods sold in the breakfast or lunch meal programs.

There are very specific limitations on beverages as well.  Basically, plain and carbonated water, skim and low fat milk, and 100% juice may be sold.  Portions for other than water are limited to 8 ounces in elementary, 12 ounces in middle and high.  High school options broaden to include no and low calorie beverages (to include diet sodas) and caffeinated beverages.

School nutrition professionals are working hard to implement these regulations.  The fundraising regulations will be perhaps the most difficult for other school organizations to implement as only food and beverages meeting regulatory standards may be sold on the school campus during school hours.  Yet, they are fair.  School organizations should not be able to sell anything that school nutrition programs cannot sell. 

Food and beverage restrictions do not apply to celebrations or after hours fundraisers.  Some states overlay "time and place" restrictions wherein no food may be sold in competition with school nutrition programs during school meal times.  Hopefully, these regulations will encourage non-food based fundraising.  There are plenty of great ideas out there for that.

The bottom line is we want students purchasing healthy meals during school hours and if they want a snack, it needs to be smart - small and healthy.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Google This and That to Eat This Not That

We make hundreds of food decisions every day. When you get down to the nuances of very specific decisions - 100% juice or whole fruit for breakfast, adding spinach or romaine to a green salad, almonds or walnuts - there is a great tool to help you maximize nutrient dense choices.

It is not an app or a software package.  Simply search two foods in your Google toolbar by typing "compare x to y".  A chart comes up, thoroughly comparing the two foods.  The data is based on the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/), which contains over 8,000 foods.

So, spinach or romaine?  Spinach gives you double the potassium and triple the calcium, both nutrients of public health concern, according to USDA.  Those are nutrients of which the average American is not getting enough.  I'd choose spinach.

Almonds or walnuts?  Almonds get the nod - lower in saturated fat, higher in monounsaturated fat and higher in fiber (another nutrient of public health concern) and protein.

Tonight we are having burgers for dinner.  Swiss or cheddar?  Does it matter?  Type "compare Swiss cheese to cheddar cheese".  Swiss is slightly lower in calories (maybe it's the holes?).  Swiss is also much lower in sodium.  Swiss gets the nod from me.

Go explore a little.  Compare butter to margarine.  Compare honey to sugar.  Compare apples to oranges.  (Yes, you can do that.)

Get savvy and make factually based food decisions.