Food companies join healthy school meals plan

by Jeff Gelski
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MIAMI — A new agreement among food manufacturers, group purchasing organizations and technology companies seeks to increase the availability of healthy school meal products served at affordable prices, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation said Jan. 21.

“With students consuming up to half of their daily calories at school, healthy school meals are key to winning the fight against childhood obesity,” said President Bill Clinton, founder of the William J. Clinton Foundation, which combined with the American Heart Association to set up the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. “Building on our agreements that have reduced the number of calories in beverages shipped to schools by 88%, the alliance is now focusing on helping provide more nutritious meal options to more than 30 million school children nationwide.”

Manufacturers such as AdvancePierre Foods, Domino’s Pizza, JTM Food Group, McCain Foods USA, Rich Products Corp. Schwan’s Food Service and Trident Seafoods have pledged not to price healthy options out of reach of school cafeterias. The manufacturers have pledged to increase the sales of products compliant with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s science-based standards for nutrition to at least 50% of their entire school sales within five years.

The agreement will focus on school foods such as lean protein products, including lean red meat, skinless poultry, lean deli meats, fat-free or low-fat cheese, beans and tofu; low-fat lunch entrees with reduced total fat, saturated fat and sodium levels; whole grain products, including bread, pasta and pizza crust; fresh, canned or frozen fruit; non-fried vegetables; and zero trans fat cooking oils.

“Increased access and lower prices to purchase healthy meal components makes it easier for schools to offer healthier school meals — a key strategy to help combat childhood obesity and to move students and staff toward ideal cardiovascular health,” said Ralph Sacco, M.D., president of the American Heart Association, Dallas.

Schools may save time and may gain buying power by joining a group purchasing organization (GPO). In the Jan. 21 agreement, three GPOs with a combined buying power of more than $70 billion agreed to offer products that meet the alliance’s nutritional guidelines. The three GPOs are HPS, Premier health care alliance and Summa/Provista.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation will collaborate with the technology firm Interflex to create an on-line tool that assists schools with planning, bidding and buying healthier products. Dole Food Co. and the National Turkey Federation have agreed to leverage their resources to support schools. Additional components include in-person and on-line training programs, menu planning and cooking techniques, and recipes from celebrity chefs to school food service staff.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, based in New York and founded in 2005, works to reduce childhood obesity. The alliance and the American Beverage Association, Washington, worked together to remove full-calorie soft drinks from schools nationwide and replace them with lower-calorie, smaller-portion beverages. In March of 2010 the A.B.A. reported an 88% reduction in calories from beverages shipped to schools since 2004.

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