USDA – FNS Phase I
The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that half of all grain foods be consumed as whole grains. However, offering whole grain foods in schools as a menu option includes several challenges, such as product identification and availability, labeling and regulatory guidelines, product acceptability by students and foodservice staff, as well as product cost. Additionally, a key factor in promoting school children’s consumption of whole grain products, while minimizing plate waste, is serving the acceptable percentage of whole grain material in the foods.
What were the research questions?
Are acceptable partial/whole grain products available on the wholesale market for purchase by school meals programs?
Are current ingredient/nutritional content and labeling practices adequate to identify whole grain products available for use in schools?
Are there economic feasibility or institutional constraints to replacing refined products with whole grain products in the school meals program?
What types of whole grain products would best fit into menus, including percentage of whole grain in the products?
What did we learn?
- An indicators of success survey based on responses from input of 28 of the 33 school food service directors whose elementary schools were rated as gold elementary schools by the USDA-FNS website in August of 2008 verified the following:
- Managers do purchase whole grain foods from a vendor.
- They were successful in transitioning students to whole grain foods by making gradual changes on the menu.
- The most common whole grain products consumed were breads and rolls.
- The types of whole grain products that would best fit into school menus would include tortillas, hamburger buns, sandwich bread, spaghetti pasta and rolls.
- Students prefer products with 30-51% whole grains in comparison to their refined counterparts.
- Students do not prefer 100% whole wheat products.
- White whole wheat products are preferred over those made with red whole wheat.
- Success in implementation of the use of whole grain foods was best introduced gradually through the adapting of recipes and the purchase of products from vendors.
- Current whole grain labeling methods are not helpful to school food service personnel in determining whole grain content of food products. A labeling method that clearly states the actual gram amounts of whole grains on the product label is the preferred method for identifying whole grain products.
- There is a need for schools to be provided with promotional and educational resources about whole grains geared towards students, parents, teachers, principals and school food service personnel.
- The cost constraints of replacing refined products with whole grain products are found in the research and development sector of the private-public partnership. Federal and state agencies mandate meal requirements for the National School Lunch Program. These mandates must then be met by school districts, using products purchased from private market sources, which may or may not have products to sell that meet the goals of these mandates.
Summary & Conclusions
The Healthier US School Challenge is a USDA recognition program based on the 2005 US Dietary Guidelines to recognize schools that are creating healthier school environments through their promotion of good nutrition and physical activity. The gold standard for whole grain offering is to be one serving per day of whole grains provided, with a lower silver or bronze standard of providing one serving of whole grain at least three times per week. If a 51% whole grain product is most widely accepted with school children, and if products are developed to provide this target content of whole grain with clear labeling to identify them as 51% whole grain, then success in attaining these challenge standards could be easily met by the school districts.
- Dr. Peter S. Murano – Principal Investigator Texas A&M University
- Dr. Eluned Jones – Co-Principal Investigat or Texas A&M University
- Dr. Len Marquart – Co-Principal Investigator University of Minnesota
- Dr. Cynthia Warren – Project Coordinator Texas A&M University
Assistance Provided by:
- Dr. Sandra Acosta
- Yolanda Columbus
- Christine Sceets
- Carrie Sudderth-Schoeffler
- AgriLife Research and Extension
United States Department of Agriculture Food & Nutrition Service