Entrance exam

by Jeff Gelski
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Whole grain products face a series of tests to enter school meal programs and stay there. An economical price may help gain entry, but to avoid ending up in the trash, they must also pass appearance and taste tests among students. Also, meeting a “whole grain rich” definition has become pivotal, and the food industry is trying to figure out the definition itself.

The proposed rule “Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs” published Jan. 13 in the Federal Register states, “Upon implementation of the final rule, half of the grains offered during the school week must be whole grain rich. Two years post-implementation of the final rule, all grains offered during the school week must be whole grain rich.”

The proposed rule says, “Whole grains are (1) grain foods whose ingredients are whole grains only (100% whole grains) or (2) whole grain ingredients, such as rye flour, and whole wheat flour” and “whole grain rich foods may contain less than 100% whole grains but, generally, contain at least 51% whole grains.”

Jessica Wellnitz, senior food technologist for the bakery technology team of Minneapolis-based Cargill, said, “There is definitely a lot of confusion around that — whole grain rich. We define whole grain rich as 51% of the grain ingredients in the product are whole grains. That’s definitely getting confused with 51% of the product itself, which is really difficult to do in bakery.”

The Whole Grains Council, Boston, said the new rule should take a cue from an Institute of Medicine report on school meals. The I.O.M. report said for a food to be whole grain rich, it must be 8 grams of whole grain per serving or more.

The Whole Grains Council, in an April 8 letter to the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said, “The I.O.M. report’s standard of 8 grams is not clearly re-iterated in the proposed school food rules, and we would urge that this standard be clarified and reinstated, either in the final regulation and/or in the accompanying guidance and food buying guide.”

A group of 10 grain industry organizations, including the American Bakers Association and the Grain Foods Foundation, on April 13 sent comments about the proposed rule to the U.S.D.A.’s F.N.S. The comments focused on the benefits of enriched grains in the diet and the need for a whole grain rich definition.

“We support defining ‘whole grains’ as those foods containing a minimum 5 to 8 grams of whole grain ingredients per serving or a product made with whole grain as the first grain ingredient in the ingredient listing,” the group said. “Based on feedback from our members, this is a realistic and attainable amount that most, if not all, whole grain products currently available on the market can already achieve.”

Jon Ford, segment sales leader for food service sales for K-12 schools for Cargill, said, “Once we’re able to get some better information on what the requirements are — certainly on the K-12 side — from the government, the industry is poised to respond.”

The School Nutrition Asso-ciation, National Harbor, Md., on Aug. 18 released “School Nutrition Operations Report: The State of School Nutrition 2011.” The report found more than 69% of the 1,294 directors surveyed consider implementing recently pro-posed nutrition standards for school meals to be their top concern. The report also found whole grain foods have become readily accessible in 97% of the schools.

“We definitely see a lot of product availability, but there is going to need to be more if these proposed nutrition standards become final,” said Diane Pratt-Heavner, director of media relations for the School Nutrition Association.

Innovation in pasta and pizza crust has created more products.

Millie Feldman, marketing manager for J.M. Swank, a ConAgra Foods, Inc. company, has talked to directors of school lunch programs about their use of dark whole wheat pasta.

“I’ve heard from many school nutrition directors that see a lot of waste when introducing dark pasta,” she said.

The color, as well as the taste, may turn off students, she said.

“If children see dark pasta and are used to the white pasta they grew up on, they are probably not going to eat it or even try it,” Ms. Feldman said.

In response, J.M. Swank now offers Ultragrain Pasta, a 51% whole grain pasta that has the same taste, texture and appearance as traditional pasta, according to the company.

“The best thing about our pasta on a school lunch menu is that kids can’t tell the difference,” Ms. Feldman said. “They are getting 28 grams of whole grains and 4 grams of fiber per serving, and it tastes great.”

The pasta comes in the six shapes of lasagna, elbows, rotini, penne and spaghetti, all made with 51% Ultragrain flour from ConAgra Mills, Omaha, as well as 51% whole nine-grain orzo made with Ultragrain flour.

Dakota Growers Pasta Co., Carrington, N.D., has focused its research and development efforts on creating “better-for-you” pastas that provide health benefits as well as superior taste and cooking performance, said Chuck Boyle, national business development manager – food service for Dakota Growers Pasta, a subsidiary of Viterra, Inc. An elbow macaroni with 51% whole grain has joined an existing line of spaghetti, rotini and penne rigate.

“We’ve also improved our whole grain pasta formula to be lighter in color and smoother in texture,” he said. “Kids eat with their eyes — we all do. Food service cooks will also notice improved cooking quality and performance with our whole grain varieties that keep longer on steam tables.”

A whole grain vegetable pasta from Dakota Growers Pasta contains a serving of vegetable nutrients per 56-gram dry serving, Mr. Boyle said, while another new formula offers an excellent source of fiber, calcium, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). It also has a good serving of protein and one serving of whole grain.

For pizza crust, Cargill is experi-menting with its MaizeWise corn bran, Ms. Wellnitz said.

“In terms of flavor, MaizeWise has more of a corn note that might be a more accepted flavor,” she said.

Domino’s offers a Smart Slice pizza for schools that is made with 51% white whole wheat flour. The pizza’s sauce also has 35% less sodium than the company’s traditional pizza sauce, and the sodium is reduced by 100 mg per serving in the mozzarella cheese.

Besides lunch, other meals served at schools may have whole grain products.

“The school feeding situation is not just lunch but is often before and after school,” said Bill Bonner, senior technical adviser for 21st Century Grain Processing, Inc., a subsidiary of Viterra, Inc. “So the whole grain products offered or available have more than one eating occasion.”

He added school meal programs should highlight the cholesterol-lowering health claims of oats just like the claims that are on in-home consumer packaging.

For breakfast, whole grain cereals are available, Cargill’s Mr. Ford said.

He added Cargill this year introduced Griddle Bakes cakes with each one delivering 6 grams of protein, a full serving of whole grain and 0 grams of trans fat while using no preservatives. The cakes are similar to pancakes, but they do not need syrup because each one has a flavor system inside it, Mr. Ford said. The product includes WheatSelect, a white spring whole wheat flour.

Whatever the meal, schools need to make whole grain products fit into their budgets.

“Whole grains are available within cost-effective delivery programs,” Mr. Bonner said. “After all, they are basic commodity grains with minimal processing.”

Cargill’s Ms. Wellnitz said WheatSelect does not use as much vital wheat gluten as traditional whole wheat, which makes it more affordable than traditional whole wheat.

J.M. Swank has its own truck lines, which reduces costs for the distribution of the Ultragrain Pasta, Ms. Feldman said.

“Our pasta is affordable, so that every school that wants it, can get it,” she said.

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