Tag Archives: USDA

School Nutrition Standards: What You Need to Know

Now more than ever, Americans are focusing more on nutrition. Many food service establishments are offering a wider variety of healthier options – including gluten-free, dairy-free, all natural, vegan and vegetarian.

The focus on more nutritious foods certainly has caught on in schools, as well. In February 2013, a proposed rule was presented to require the USDA to establish nutrition standards for all foods and beverages sold in school. These school nutrition standards will go beyond the current Federal child nutrition programs for schools.

Starting July 1, 2014, the new standards will go into effect at schools nationwide. The law specifies that the standards apply to all foods sold at schools, any time of the day. This includes a la carte items in the cafeteria, snack bars, and vending machines.

General Standards for Food

To be allowable, a food item must:

  • Be a whole grain rich product, or
  • Have a fruit, vegetable, dairy, or protein food be the first ingredient, or
  • Be a combination food that contains at least ¼ cup fruit and/or vegetable or
  • Contain 10% of the Daily Value (DV) of a nutrient of public health concern (i.e., calcium, potassium, vitamin D, or dischool nutrition blenderetary fiber)

For more details, read the full school nutrition standards from the USDA.

Products For School Nutrition

To help keep school foods healthier, why not try some new equipment? Central carries many options to allow users to easily prepare the healthiest meals!

  • Blenders and food processors can be a great way to change things up in your cafeteria. They can be used to make soups, sauces, nut butters, and delicious healthy smoothies! You can also save money by using unused produce in one of these items to create new recipes.
  • Combi ovens are a great option for schools. They have three functions – convection, steam, and combination cooking. These ovens provide a versatile and healthy way to prepare a variety of foods. Use a combi to cook rice, vegetables, fish, and much more. Combi ovens help to reduce shrinkage, which can help to preserve your food product. If different dishes are prepared at the same time, each retain its flavor, vitamins and nutritional value.
  • Tilting skillets are another versatile piece of equipment. They have a large capacity and can be used to grill, simmer, braise, and more. The tilt design allows for convenient transfer of food to serving pans.

school nutrition combi

Whatever your school needs, Central is here to help! Call us at 1-800-215-9293 or shop online today!

Foodservice Industry Week in Brief: 8/3

Looking for some of the week’s top information? Check out these five stories from the foodservice industry from July 30-August 3.

Burger King Sees 60 Percent Increase in Sales

From Nation’s Restaurant News, Read Full Story

As quarter two came to a close, it looks as though Burger King’s menu additions are paying off.  In a recent Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN) article, it’s been reported the fast food chain has seen a 60 percent increase in their second quarter profits.  This is good news for them as it was just a few months back when they lost their No. 2 ranking to Wendy’s.  NRN also added Burger King is also remodeling over 7,000 units in the U.S. and Canada.  Forty percent of of those locations have been remodeled and so far have seen a 12 to 15 percent increase in sales.

Gluten-Free Food Gaining in Popularity, Is It Needed?

From Huff Post Food, Read Full Story

Gluten-free is everywhere now, from grocery store shelves to restaurant menus.  But it may be misunderstood by thousands of people who think it’s healthier way to eat or will help one to lose weight.  Gluten-free items are intended for those with celiac Disease, also known as a gluten intolerance.  (Read more about celiac Disease on Celiac.com).

In Huff Post Food’s recent findings, 1.8 million Americans have the disease with 1.4 million not yet diagnosed.  But what may be the most interesting of what Huff Post Food found was that 1.6 million people don’t have celiac disease yet follow this diet.  This is where there may be some misconceptions of being a weight-loss solution or a healthier way of eating, when it’s really a form of treatment for those with a gluten intolerance or even non-celiac disease related gluten sensitivity.  So while gluten-free may seem as though it’s the latest food trend, it’s actually something people should discuss with a doctor first.  (But definitely a plus to keep or add to a restaurant menu to help those with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity).

Combo Deals Aren’t As Popular As They Were Five Years Ago

From NACS Online, Read Full Story

Combo deals–they’re popular among consumers, even much to the point where people memorize the combo’s number and don’t even need to say anything else other than what they’d like to drink with it.  But according to a NACS Online article, combo deal sales are down about one billion servings from 2007.

“A recently released NDP foodservice market research report finds that smaller lunch and supper meals, more and better value offerings, price concerns and composition of meal are among the contributors to combo meal declines,” NACS said.

Manitowoc and NSF International’s Partnership

From Restaurant Facility Business, Read Full Story

Okay, while this isn’t news from this last week, we just came across it and had to share as it’s about one of the many manufacturers we work with.

In a late June Restaurant Facility Business story, they reported NSF International is now the preferred provider of sanitation services for leading global foodservice equipment company, Manitowoc Foodservice.  Through this collaboration, the two will work to provide “safer, higher quality foodservice equipment to companies worldwide,” said RFB.

School’s in Session! Recap of Updated USDA Guidelines

From The Central Blog, Read Full Story

It’s that time of year again–back to school! While the kids were out on vacation, school foodservices certainly had some learning to do and changes to make to meet the updated USDA guidelines that went into affect on July 1.  Visit the Central blog for a complete guide to the changes–and let us know below about how your school has made changes!


Complete Guide on New Standards for School Meals: July 1 Changes

In late January of 2012, First Lady Michelle Obama and Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsak introduced new standards for school meals.  These new guidelines will be implemented in phases all the way out to the 2022-2023 school year, with the first phase beginning on July 1 for the 2012-2013 school year.

Introduction and Links to Bookmark

With schools needing to implement changes on July 1, Central is ready to help in any way possible.  Below is an overview of the new guidelines and list of products that can help with new portion requirements. Don’t hesitate to call one of our Product Consultants at 800-215-9293 with any questions on your school foodservice needs.

Below is a recap of the new guidelines that are to be implemented on July 1.  See a complete overview slideshow in full detail, including upcoming school years, on the USDA website.

To make it easier to find information, each new requirement below includes the corresponding slides.  Other important items to bookmark are:

Lunch Requirements

The USDA has provided a Lunch Meal Pattern for all food items (slide 9). Below find details on each requirement for the July 1, 2012 implementation with links and slide page numbers to refer to for all information.

Slides 10 to 11

  • Offer fruit daily
  • Minimum of ½ cup per day

Slides 12 to 14

  • Offer vegetables subgroups weekly
  • Minimum of ¾ cup per day
  • The weekly requirements are for: Dark green, red/orange, beans/peas (legumes), starchy or other (as defined in 2010 dietary guidelines)

Slides 15 to 18

  • Half of grains must be whole grain-rich and must offer weekly grains ranges.  Whole grain-rich is at least 50 percent whole grains.
  • The USDA says, “If the first ingredient is water, a whole grain may be listed as the second ingredient and still meet our whole grain-rich criteria.”
  • Serving Minimum Requirements:
    • Grades K-5: 1 ounce eq. per day or 8-9 ounces per week
    • Grades 6- 8: 1 ounce eq. per day or 8-10 ounces per week
    • Grades 9- 12: 2 ounce eq. per day or 10-12 ounces per week

Meat/Meat Alternatives
Slides 19 to 20

  • Offer weekly meats/meat alternatives ranges (daily minimum)
  • Serving Minimum Requirements:
    • Grades K-5: 1 ounce eq. per day or 8-10 ounces per week
    • Grades 6-8: 1 ounce eq. per day or 9-10 ounces per week
    • Grades 9-12: 2 ounce eq. per day or 10-12 ounces per week

Slides 21 to 22

  • Offer only fat-free (unflavored or flavored) and low-fat (unflavored) milk
  • Serving Minimum Requirements (same for grades K-12):
    • 1 cup per day or 5 cups per week

Dietary Specifications (to be met on average over a week)
Slides 34 to 39

  • Calorie ranges:
    • Grades K-5: Breakfast: 350-500, Lunch: 550-650
    • Grades 6-8: Breakfast 400-500, Lunch: 600-700
    • Grades 9-12: Breakfast: 450-600, Lunch: 750-850
    • Saturated fat limit
      • Less than 10 percent of total calories
      • Zero grams of trans fat per portion

More lunch requirements are going into effect on July 1 on menu planning, age-grade groups, offer vs. serve and monitoring.  Review the USDA’s Implementation Timeline for details.

Breakfast Requirements

The USDA has provided a Breakfast Meal Pattern for all food items (slide 25). Below find details on each requirement for the July 1, 2012 implementation with links and slide page numbers to refer to for all information.

Slides 30 to 31

  • Serving Minimum Requirements (same for grades K-12):
    • 1 cup per day or 5 cups per week

Dietary Specifications (to be met on average over a week)
Slides 34 to 29

  • Zero grams of trans fat per portion

Central’s Product Suggestions

Need new equipment? Below are suggestions by Product Consultant Dan Merriman. Again, don’t hesitate to contact a Central Product Consultant at 800-215-9293 with help on the new guidelines and purchasing equipment.

Food Portioners


Measuring Cups and Spoons


Compartment Trays

Milk Coolers

Cold Food Pans

Hot Food Pans

Pink Slime Update–It’s Not What’s For Dinner

In recent weeks you haven’t been able to turn on the television without hearing the phrase, “pink slime,” on any media outlet.  After a former USDA scientist/turned whistleblower came out to announce that so-called ground beef found at nationwide supermarkets was actually ammonia-sprayed “lean finely-textured beef,” appropriately nicknamed by the media as “pink slime,” the public was appalled. They immediately went into action, denouncing the government for allowing such products to be served to the American public without labeling it as such.  Suddenly, fast-food restaurants (such as McDonalds and Taco Bell) went on the record to say that they were no longer carrying the meat, as did many supermarkets across the country.  Parents also jumped on the bandwagon and demanded that schools no longer serve the “pink slime” in school lunches, prompting the USDA to give schools the option to no longer carry the meat.  (I’ve never been happier that I pack my son’s own lunches!)

Yet, what’s happened since then?  There was so much hullabaloo about it for a few weeks, but now it seems as if the public has somewhat forgotten about the danger.  Do they no longer care?  Will they go back to eating the ammonia-sprayed “meat”?  Are there other poisons being used on the meat?  And are there other dangerous cases that the public should be worried about that the government has yet to tell us?


A “Pink-Slimed Economy”

As popular television host, Jon Stewart, put it, “We’re a pink slime-based economy!”  Yep, we’re a cheap meat economy, and if we really want to change anything to do with pink slime, which I’m sure, in ideology, the majority of us do, we will have to start slaughtering 1.5 million additional cattle, according to Gary Acuff, who runs the Center for Food and Safety.  While millions of Americans want food reform from the USDA, are they really willing to dish out the extra money to pay for it in this economy?  The majority of people I know are fortunate to have a job, let alone be able to shop at Whole Foods and buy organic, grass-fed ground beef.  So, will the nation decide to buy the higher-priced meat, or will they give up and go back to the ammonia-treated meat trimmings due to the fact that their  salaries just can’t afford it?

Yes, in a perfect world, we’d all have perfect jobs, lead perfect lives, and the USDA wouldn’t be in cahoots with lobbyists that work for the beef companies.MP900262828  Beef companies would have farmers that raise cattle and other animals in a humane way; they wouldn’t feed them grain when their stomachs are made only to digest grass, creating bacteria and E.coli to form, which is the main reason why ammonia is sprayed onto the meat in the first place.  But, alas…I digress.  We don’t live in a perfect world, and until the problem is solved, there will be no real solution.

The Beef Industry—They’re Freaking Out, Man!

Following the public uproar and protests over pink slime, sales of such meat obviously declined rapidly, and three out of the four factories of such “meat” were shut down.  Suddenly, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, and Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa, were shaming the American public for denouncing the beef industry, claiming the substance was safe and that it was all the nation’s own fault for the tanking economy if pink slime continued to be ignored.  As Gov. Branstad noted, “It’s beef, but it’s a leaner beef, which is better for you.” (Is he serious?)  In actually, “lean finely textured beef” is fatty bits of leaner cuts from the cow that is then sprayed with ammonia to get rid of any diseases, such as the E.coli previously discussed in this article.  So, no, Governor, it’s actually not better for you.

Then on April 3, 2012, AFA Foods, (partly-owned by former NBA basketball star, Magic Johnson) declared bankruptcy, citing the decrease of pink slime sales.  Again, the blame fell on Americans, due to the fact that AFA also was in the midst of laying off 850 employees.

Some pink slime manufacturers have decided to risk labeling the “meat”, hoping it will gain trust and confidence from consumers.  The labels will state something along the lines of “Contains Lean Finely Textured Beef” so that the consumer is aware that the meat has been treated with ammonia.  The USDA is now receiving applications from various beef manufacturers on such labeling.


“Several companies have chosen to voluntarily pursue a new claim on their product labels that will allow them to clarify the use of lean finely textured beef,” spokesman Aaron Lavallee said in a statement. “USDA has received this type of application for the first time through the normal label approval process and the department has determined that such requests will be approved.”

Many beef processors are hoping this type of labeling will be the first step in restoring confidence among American consumers, resulting in increasing sales.


Ammonia—It’s Not Just For Beef!

The newest shock to Americans came on April 4th, 2012, when it was reported that the USDA has approved the use of ammonia in other foods, such as cheese, baking goods, and chocolate for over 40 years.chocolate chip cookie  Kraft Foods, one food company that uses different types of ammonia into their foods, such as Chips Ahoy® cookies and Velveeta® cheese , points out that forms of ammonia occur naturally in plants, animals and mik; yet, they did not go into depth in terms of the forms of ammonia in which the ammonia occurs.  Turns out the type of ammonia found in pink slime—ammonia hydroxide—is actually not found naturally, and is chemically made.

When asked if they use ammonia hydroxide in their foods, Kellogg’s, Sara Lee, and Hormel all said no.  Perhaps they know something the beef industry does not?


A Deeper Look At New USDA Guidelines for Schools

In last Tuesday’s blog, Central looked into schools serving meals three times a day—and it really shows just how times have changed.  Thanks to a rough economy, many children eat over half to all of their meals at school during the week.

In general, “the school meal” has been a hot topic, perhaps really kicking off in 2010 when the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was signed and First Lady Michelle Obama started the Let’s Move! campaign.

It’s been a few years since those initiatives have been put in place and with anything, there are always changes and revisions.

On January 26, the USDA released new guidelines to improve nutritional quality.

To summarize, schools will have to offer more fruit, vegetables and whole grains, provide fat-free or low-fat milk, limit calories based on age and reduce saturated fat, trans fat and sodium.  Also, every three years school lunches will be reviewed to ensure they are consistent with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.  (Further detail of changes reviewed later on in this blog).

Schools will have to start to implement these changes on July 1, 2012—which kicks off a three year phase for all of the changes included in the document, “Nutritional Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.”

At a whopping 80 pages, this document is no quick read and is a lot of information to sift through. Because there are so many revisions, the USDA isn’t leaving schools in the dark.

On March 1, the USDA released a very informative (and shorter) document, “Questions & Answers to the Final Rule, “Nutrition Standards in the School Lunch and Breakfast Programs,” which focuses on specific changes piece by piece.

It’s not surprising the very first question is, “Why is USDA setting new meal patterns and dietary specifications for school meals?”

Well, the signing of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was a huge step in school nutrition because it was the first change in the last 15 years.  So, going back to the concept that “times have changed,” they really have.

In this chart by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the rise in childhood obesity is clear.  From 1963 to 1970, four percent of six to 11-year-olds were overweight, and 5 percent of 12 to 19- year-olds.  There were subtle changes from 1971 through 1980, and then there was a big jump from 1988 to 1994 when the rate jumped to 11 percent for children between the ages of six and 19.

Today? Almost every one out of three children is overweight.

With many children getting many if not all of their nutritious meals at school, the USDA knew it was time for some changes to be made.

To go into further detail, the USDA lists the following as the main differences to the old rules and the new ones:

  • Food planning based on age and grade group
  • Fruits and vegetables now two separate food components
  • “Offer vs. Serve” approach, to have students choose at least a half a cup of fruits or vegetables
  • Weekly grains ranges along with a daily minimum requirement—and by the third year, all grains served must be whole grain-rich
  • Only serve unflavored or flavored fat-free milk or unflavored low-fat milk
  • Minimum and maximum calorie levels
  • Two intermediate sodium target reductions, then a final one
  • Limit trans fat and saturated fat
  • Three year administrative review cycle

Currently, the new guidelines do not affect meals for children with disabilities or children in pre-kindergarten.

The three year administrative review cycle will start during the 2013-2014 school year.

The new changes and guidelines are extensive. But documents like the “Questions & Answers on the Final Rule” help to simplify. 

Here is a list of some helpful resources from the USDA, be sure to find all of them here:

Also, don’t forget to check out our blog from Tuesday March 19 about schools serving three meals per day.

Schools to Celebrate National School Breakfast Week

During the week of March 5-9, schools and organizations across the United States will celebrate National School Breakfast Week to highlight the importance and availability of the School Breakfast Program.  Each year, the School Nutrition Association (SNA) creates a theme that starts in January and runs through National School Breakfast Week.  This year’s theme is “School Breakfast—Go for Gold.”

SNA’s goal with this campaign is to help students learn the importance of a healthy and active lifestyle. They also mention it lines up with the USDA’s HealthierUS School Challenge and Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign.

SNA has put together several resources on their website to get schools back on track and ensure they have all the tools they need for a successful breakfast program.

The also want to make sure students, parents and the media know:

  • The School Breakfast Program is available for schools
  • There is an established link between breakfast and academic success
  • Eating a nutritious breakfast is important as it helps children keep at a healthy weigh

It’s extremely important for children to maintain a healthy weight.  According to the Let’s Move! website, every one in three children is overweight.

“Thirty years ago, most people led lives that kept them at a height weight,” Let’s Move! said. “Today, children experience a very different lifestyle.  Walks to and from school have been replaced by car and bus rides.  Gym class and after-school sports have been cut; afternoons are now spent with TV, video games and the internet.  Parents are busier than ever and families eat fewer home-cooked meals.  Snacking between meals is not commonplace.”

The good news is, as Let’s Move! went into its second year this February, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said they didn’t see a rise in childhood obesity.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, MyPlate and the new standards for school meals are a few of the many factors that have helped in the fight against childhood obesity.  Now the goal is to give children the tools they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

For all information about this year’s National School Breakfast Week, including tools and resources for schools, visit SNA’s website.

Will your school be celebrating National School Breakfast Week?

The Latest on School Nutrition: New USDA Standards

Last August the School Nutrition Association released their “The State of School Nutrition 2011,” which found many school nutritionists and foodservice workers eager to provide healthier menu items at their schools.

Image: Jeltovski/MorgueFile

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

    Image: margey6652/Morguefile

  • 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.”

Image: imelenchon/MorgueFile

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?