|WASHINGTON, May 20, 2014 – Today, Agriculture Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon announced new flexibility for school districts working to meet updated whole grain requirements for school meals. During the current school year, USDA received feedback from schools that the whole grain rich products currently on the market did not hold together when produced in large quantities for school cafeterias. Based on this input, schools that demonstrate significant challenges in serving whole-grain rich pastas can now continue serving traditional enriched pasta products for up to two more years, as industry works to develop healthy pasta that works for schools.”Schools raised legitimate concerns that acceptable whole-grain rich pasta products were not available. We worked to find a solution which will allow more time for industry to develop products that will work for schools,” said Concannon. “We continue to listen and work closely with schools and parents to implement common sense nutritional guidance that supports a healthier next generation. But, with one third of American children fighting obesity, we cannot accept politically motivated efforts to undermine standards and deny kids healthier options.”
To help reduce America’s childhood obesity epidemic and reduce health risks for America’s children, the U.S. Department of Agriculture set new school meal standards based on expert recommendations from the Institute of Medicine to ensure kids are being served healthy food while they are at school. A recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health shows that children are already choosing to eat healthier foods, including more fruits and vegetables, as a result. Experts identified increased consumption of whole grain foods as a key factor in helping lower childhood obesity and reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.
Therefore, beginning next school year, all grains and breads in school meal programs must be “whole grain-rich,” meaning that they contain at least 50 percent whole grain meal and/or flour. These requirements also reflect the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommended making whole grains at least half of all grains consumed.
Many types of pasta, including those available through USDA Foods, meet the whole grain-rich criteria. However, during the current school year, USDA heard feedback from some schools suggesting that certain whole grain-rich pastas raised a challenge for school menus. Some of the available products, such as lasagna and elbow noodles, degraded easily during preparation and service and were difficult to use in larger-scale cooking operations. Additional consultations with both schools and pasta industry experts confirmed this challenge.
Whole grain-rich pastas made from blends of whole grain and enriched flours maintain better consistency, but these products are still emerging in the marketplace. Therefore, USDA recognizes that USDA Foods and industry may need additional time to develop a range of acceptable whole grain-rich pastas. As such, USDA is offering flexibility in this area for those districts serving menu items with whole grain-rich pastas that do not hold together well.