Nutritional policies in schools have seen a radical change over the past few years under the direction of Michelle Obama and the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The overall goals of the act are to increase the use of whole grains, fruits and vegetables and low-fat and reduced-fat milk on school menus. Schools also are being required to decrease sodium, saturated fat and trans fat content.
Current guidelines require at least half of the grains served in schools to be whole grains, but eventually all grains served in schools will be required to be of the whole grain variety. Calories, sodium and fat will need to be balanced over a week of meals to meet certain guidelines, and a minimum amount of fruit and vegetable servings must be offered over this same week's span. A sliding scale has been implemented so schools can ease into these new guidelines over the next few years while the students' palates and stomachs adjust accordingly.
Restaurant concepts are answering this call through the development of partnerships in which brands provide options such as yogurt and healthier pizza varieties to school districts and individual locations. This has been successfully done by brands such as Suzy's Swirl and NYPD Pizza, who have had their menu items analyzed and formatted to fit into the new school standards.
Over the past few years, it's becoming more and more common for us to work with restaurants or other foodservice entities that have partnerships with local school districts. As the nutritional guidelines become more fine-tuned for food served on school grounds, these restaurants and other companies are looking for third-party verification to ensure that their products are meeting all of the necessary requirements. When we work with one of these brands, we analyze the product as they currently offer it, and then consult with them to get the product within the guideline amounts for both nutrients and ingredients. The most common school lunch item that we work on is pizza, which tends to require a good amount of tweaking to fit the guidelines. To date, we have never had one of the final pizzas turned away from a school district.
We encourage brands to work with school districts in an effort to increase brand awareness and community engagement and suggest brand leaders go directly through food service departments to gather a main point of contact. Questions to ask school nutritional services include:
1. When is the district RFP/bid released?
2. What time of year does the district send out requests for information?
3. Does the local district have a committee for food service like a farm to fork group or power parents who are watching what is eaten and where it comes from?
4. Who at the district is in charge of Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act compliance?
School officials are primarily looking for brands that can provide menu items that meet the new nutrition requirements at affordable prices. They are also looking for items that provide solutions for special needs diners. For example, most pizzas are 100 percent peanut free, a huge plus for school districts looking to serve children with peanut allergies.
Yogurt also is a great solution as a school treat to accommodate children who have special dietary needs because it can be made to be allergen- and gluten-free.
We know the rules and can help guide, advise and assist foodservice brands looking to expand their reach through school partnerships. Our goal is to help protect the lives and health of your current and future customers. Together, we can make a difference and successfully serve every diner within your community.
Betsy Craig brings 20 years of food service industry experience to MenuTrinfo, LLC a menu nutritional labeling Company. Her commitment to the betterment of the food industry and her desire to affect the dining public are the driving forces behind her new company Kitchens with Confidence, LLC.