A is for apple

by Beth Day
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In an effort to solve the puzzle of affordable, healthy lunches for picky palates, food companies like Revolution Foods are coming up with innovative ways to feed America's children.

Good nutrition is essential for people of all ages, but especially for children. Rates of childhood obesity are rising, and malnutrition threatens the food-challenged among America’s poorer families. It is increasingly important to ensure all kids have access to nutritious foods for healthy growth and development and to teach them how to make good food choices for life.

Providing healthier and more appetizing meals in school cafeterias is a key trend influencing nutrition for U.S. children.

Making the move

The federal child nutrition program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.) provides 30 million lunches and 13.5 million breakfasts to nearly 32 million children each day. In an effort to improve the quality and nutritive value of foods served in schools, Congress enacted the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010.

New nutritional standards were established resulting in daily offerings of fruits and vegetables, lower-fat dairy products, adjusted portions and calories, reductions in unhealthy fats and sodium, and an increase in whole-grain-rich foods. U.S.D.A. set several deadlines for meeting the whole-grain-rich requirements and targeted sodium reductions that began in 2012. Implementing the new U.S.D.A. regulations is the responsibility of the states’ foodservice directors who manage school meal planning and work with foodservice technicians to prepare the food they serve to students.

“School nutrition professionals are committed to serving students nutritious, appealing meals and encouraging them to make healthy choices,” said Patricia Montague, CAE, and chief executive officer of the School Nutrition Association (S.N.A.), which represents 55,000 members.

Food manufacturers who supply products for school meals are also directly affected by U.S.D.A. regulations. Schwan’s Food Service has a long history of providing food for schools, and it takes its responsibility seriously. “We’re very proud of our 40-year legacy of doing what’s right for students — making great-tasting, wholesome and nutritious food by starting with a base of culinary knowledge and an understanding of children’s taste preferences, as well as incorporating the latest recommended nutrition guidelines,” said Helene Clark, K-12 channel leader for Schwan’s Food Service, Marshall, Minn.

Implementing the new regulations was challenging for K-12 food service directors who had to balance reformulating products and menus with managing budgets and controlling costs. Many worked closely with suppliers to meet the requirements.

“We believe that school foodservice directors are the most knowledgeable experts in this area of school nutrition. They’re on the front lines every day, and we need to listen to their needs and assist them in solving their challenges,” Ms. Clark explained.

Schools and food manufacturers have been mostly successful creating foods that meet the 2012 grain standard, making at least half of all grain-based foods served by schools whole-grain-rich, and complying with U.S.D.A.’s Target 1 sodium reduction level.

“Bigger suppliers like Schwan’s, Tyson and General Mills have the resources to devote to product development and staff to help school foodservice managers understand new federal regulations,” said Wade Hanson, principal, Technomic, Chicago.

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