Unfortunately, many schools cited monetary reasons as to why they were unable to enhance menus. Other schools just hadn’t made the switch yet.
There’s been a huge emphasis on school nutrition and health since Michelle Obama stepped into her role as first lady.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was signed in December 2010, the food pyramid was revamped into MyPlate and Mrs. Obama initiated the Let’s Move! campaign, which aims to create a healthier generation of children.
So while some things have just been encouraged or implemented as guides, come July 1, schools will have to start making changes based on the USDA’s new standards.
The new standards were announced on Jan. 25 and stem from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Per the USDA’s website, the new rules are to:
Offer fruits and vegetables to students daily
Increase offering of whole grain-rich foods
Provide only fat-free or low-fat milk
Limit calories based on age so students receive their appropriate portion size
Reduce amounts of saturated fat, trans fat and sodium
Schools must begin making changes at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, but will have three year period to implement all revisions.
While some critics say more can be done for school nutrition, many are pleased, including Sarah Wu, former anonymous blogger for her blog Fed Up with Lunch (also known as Mrs. Q, read our October interview with her here).
“I think it’s really great, actually,” she said. “I’m pretty pleased with them and it’s definitely a good step in the right direction. There’s more we can do, but I’m totally happy.”
Image: Fed Up with Lunch
One of Wu’s biggest concerns goes back to the reason why many schools hadn’t made the move to healthier items in the first place: money.
“I think I’m concerned about how districts will make it work with the money they have,” she said.
According to the USDA, the price of school menus will increase by six cents—which is the first big increase in the last 30 years.
To compensate, the USDA will increase funding to cover the six cents. However, Wu pointed out despite the increased funding, she mentioned it’s been said the cost for the new standards may actually be 11 cents per meal. If that is the end result, the five cent difference could be challenging for schools.
“There are ways instead of having to absorb those losses,” Wu said, and wonders if schools could get in touch with local non-profits, foundations, have fundraisers, etc.
“There have to be ways people can engage and help.”
So cost aside, Wu and many others are pleased with these new standards.
In the USDA’s press release, they also had other improvements they would like to make such as to have nutritional standards apply to all ways students get food and beverage (i.e. vending), have “common-sense pricing standards for schools” and provide training and technical assistance to help schools comply with the new standards.
To view more information about the new guidelines, including links to sample menus and more, visit the USDA’s website.
How do you feel about the USDA’s new standards? Schools, how will this impact you directly?
Every Friday Central brings you stories from the week that you might have missed, but that are definitely worth a look. We’ll feature food news covering everything from the weird to the wonderful in the world of restaurants, schools, the military and more. It’s our way to help you go into the weekend with a little extra knowledge and maybe even a project or recipe to try out!
1) Sadly, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs passed away on Wednesday, at age 56, after fighting pancreatic cancer since 2004. And while you might not typically associate Jobs with food (other than an apple), it seems that his influence has reached the dining world more than we may have realized. In an article on the Miami New Times website, it’s made apparent that Jobs shaped the way we all find and discuss food. The article sites everything from the growing popularity of using the iPad to order in restaurants to the many apps like OpenTable and Urbanspoon that are now always on-hand thanks to devices like the iPhone. Along with these helpful items, Jobs also had a huge part in ensuring a healthy diet for his Apple employees, setting a precedent with an on-site cafeteria that provides everything from freshly made sushi to vegan fare (check out this cafeteria review from Mac|life for more on the offerings).
2) Michelle Obama had made her Let’s Move! Campaign even more interactive by using Twitter to personally speak with followers of the @LetsMove Twitter account. Eighteen followers were invited to the Washington, D.C. this week for the White House Tweetup, a chance to view the harvesting of the kitchen garden, meet White House chefs and even chat with Mrs. Obama about the campaign and the fight to end childhood obesity. And for those not lucky to be one of the eighteen chosen there was also an opportunity to post questions for the First Lady about the program using the #AskMichelle hash tag.
3) A new machine could put an end to all of the foodborne illnesses that have seemed to run rampant over the past few months (including the current Listeria outbreak in cantaloupes). According to a press release, “The ?Screen is a portable, rapid pathogen screener that could allow screening of up to 100% of food produced in processing plants, before it is delivered to the consumer.” This groundbreaking invention, created by a group of students from Yale’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, just won the grand prize of $20,000 (to be put towards getting the product to the market) in the “Create the Future” Design contest.
5) And speaking of gluten free eating, Central had the chance this week to interview the infamous Mrs. Q of Fed Up With Lunch about her own gluten free lifestyle as well as her thoughts on schools going gluten free. This week was a big one for Mrs. Q or as she can now be known Sarah Wu (and not just because of her interview with us). Wednesday morning, after blogging anonymously for almost two years about her perspectives on the state of school lunch, the Chicago public school speech pathologist came out into the open to promote the release of her book “Fed up with Lunch: How One Anonymous Teacher Revealed the Truth about School Lunches – And How We Can Change Them”. Check out her experience in this video from ABC News.
A few years back, public school speech pathologist Sarah Wu forgot to pack her lunch and decided to grab a meal in her school’s cafeteria along with the students. After seeing the “nutritious” meal that was being served to children every day, Wu was inspired to challenge herself to get involved and get the word out to others, especially parents that may not realize the lack of healthy foods their sons or daughters were being fed each day. In order to do this Wu ate school lunch every day in 2010 while anonymously blogging, tweeting and sharing photos of the meals under the pseudonym Mrs. Q.
Mrs. Q’s Fed up with Lunch blog caused quite a stir and while Wu did continually fear that at any time she could be ousted and possibly lose her job, she continued to share her thoughts on the state of school food. This persistence has paid off with national recognition of her efforts on outlets like Good Morning America and National Public Radio. This public acknowledgment went a step further on Wednesday, October 05, 2011 when Wu relinquished her anonymity as Mrs. Q in order to release a book about her experience called “Fed up with Lunch: How One Anonymous Teacher Revealed the Truth about School Lunches – And How We Can Change Them”.
And while Wu is now busier than ever, she will continue to blog, as she has since the challenge ended, about school lunch reform and to share the eating habits of her own family and her decision to eliminate gluten from her own diet. Because of this dedication to a healthier, more balanced diet, as well as her first hand knowledge of food allergies, we asked Wu to share with us her experience with dietary issues and how similar eating habits could play a part in school meals.
Central Restaurant Products: What was your diet like before the lunch project and looking back how did it affect your health?
Sarah Wu: I always thought of my diet as healthy. I made sure we ate balanced meals and planned dinner with a meat, a grain, and a veggie. But I wasn’t focused on ingredients or organics like I do now. We never ate fast food on a regular basis, but we did eat out quite a bit. My health was ok, but I have been suffering with IBS for almost ten years.
CRP: Without the school lunch project, do you think you would have looked into going gluten free? Why or why not?
SW: As I discuss very briefly in the book, I went gluten free for a couple of weeks about four years ago. In the book, I said that my brief voyage into gluten free living was because of my IBS. It was also because I was having difficulty getting pregnant and I was reading fertility books obsessively. One book mentioned going gluten free and drinking whole milk. I was desperate to get pregnant so I tried their recommendations. I felt really good (and I ended up getting pregnant that month) and did a little research online and found “Celiac disease.” Because my IBS was better, I thought I must have Celiac disease so I went to a GI doctor (gastroenterologist) for a test. The blood test was negative and the doctor told me, “You do not have a problem with wheat so go ahead and resume a normal diet.” Although I was relieved that I didn’t have an autoimmune disorder like Celiac, I was stumped because I felt oddly better without wheat. Since I trusted the doctor, I started eating wheat again.
I never would have questioned the doctor’s recommendations again because the test results were clear. Additionally my father is a doctor and we believe in medical science and technology.
It just so happened that when I was appearing anonymously on a food blogging conference in San Francisco in October 2010, I started talking to Alison St. Sure, who is a food blogger who has Celiac disease. We just started chatting and she mentioned her diagnosis. I told her something like, “That’s funny, a few years ago I thought I had Celiac disease, but my test was negative.” She said something then that changed my life, “You know just because you don’t have Celiac disease doesn’t mean you don’t have a problem with wheat. What the doctor should have said was that you could be gluten sensitive.” I was stunned. I decided that night that when the project was over I would try gluten free living again. CRP: What sources did you use to go gluten free?
CRP: What advice would you give to someone thinking about going gluten free?
SW: It’s important that someone who thinks that they have Celiac disease gets tested prior to going gluten free. If you are gluten free prior to the test, your body will stop producing the antibodies to wheat and those are what reveal a problem. Get tested and then try the diet. Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disease whose rates are doubling every 15 years. It is very troubling. Research the symptoms. Even if you don’t have Celiac disease, you may find a benefit to gluten free living like I had. I feel amazing and I’ll never go back.
Image from FedUpWithLunch.com
CRP: What benefits are there to going gluten free? What are the drawbacks?
SW: For someone like me, the benefits are incredible. My IBS is totally gone. I also have more energy. Many people who say they go gluten free mention having more energy. For me I think that having chronic digestive troubles drained my energy. Now my body can focus on other things, which makes me feel physically stronger.
The drawback is eating out. It can be hard to find a restaurant that understands what gluten can do to people like me. But I have found lots of restaurants, including major chains, have gluten free menus. All you have to do is ask.
CRP: How have you had to change your shopping routine since going gluten free?
SW: Now I read all labels. I’m aware of ingredients more than ever. Also we are eating more whole foods (fruits, veggies, meats) and those are naturally gluten free.
CRP: Are there any food item substitutes that just don’t measure up to the original? Any items you or your family miss having?
SW: I think it’s hard to find a perfect match for pasta that doesn’t contain gluten. I have been able to find equivalents to most things. It just takes time. When I feel bad it’s usually when we go out to dinner and we get a bread basket on the table. My son is able to wait for his food, but I just feel bad he has to miss out at certain restaurants.
CRP: What products have been easiest to switch from?
SW: Finding gluten free cereal and oatmeal is not hard. I think breakfast is pretty easy to make gluten free because eggs, bacon and OJ are gluten free (check individual brands).
CRP: What foods do you find yourself eating more often due to your change in diet?
SW: I think that my overall awareness of food has made me eat more fruits and veggies than before. I still eat too many cookies — some things never change!
CRP: How difficult do you think it would be for a school (yours or your son’s daycare for example) to go gluten free? What specific roadblocks do you see them running into? If money and administrative restraints were no issue, would you recommend schools going this route?
SW: I think it would be hard to meet the USDA requirements (each school lunch averages about two servings of grain) and not incorporate wheat. But if you look at school lunch, they are serving a ton of wheat –what happened to other grains? Rice? Corn? Quinoa? Spelt? Barley? Rye? I believe everything in moderation and people are consuming more wheat than ever before. Oddly, rates of Celiac disease have been doubling every 15 years. That might be a sign that people should each a more diverse diet.
If money and administrative costs were not a concern, I would advise schools to back off the overabundance of wheat. A varied diet is more wholesome.
CRP: How do you believe students would benefit from going gluten free?
SW: Well, 97% of people with Celiac disease have not been diagnosed. One in 133 people are living with Celiac disease and most of them don’t know it. This can lead to living with another chronic disease as people with undiagnosed Celiac disease are at risk of developing other ailments including cancer. I consider this to be an epidemic. So I think that if more students ate a varied diet, they might be able to notice a correlation between how they feel after they eat a gluten free meal versus a wheat-heavy meal.
In discussing Celiac disease, I make no mention of people like me who have some kind of undiagnosed gluten sensitivity. Who knows how many people there are who could benefit from eating less gluten.