Monday, October 31, 2011

Yes, We Have a New Wellness Policy

Better food equals healthier kids

By Ed Bruske

aka The Slow Cook

Over the last several months I've been meeting with D.C. school officials and now it can be revealed: We have a new wellness policy that prohibits flavored milk and sugary cereals, requires that all children have at least 30 minutes to eat their food at lunch, limits classroom celebrations to just one per month and mandates that all food served on school grounds--including vending machines, school stores, bake sales and other fundraisers--comply with HealthierUS School Challenge gold-level standards.

Congress in 2004 mandated that all public schools must have a wellness policy in place that sets goals for nutrition education and physical activity and establishes guidelines for the food available during the school days. The federal law also requires that schools involve parents and students in developing the wellness policy. But it doesn't give precise directions on how this is to be done, so parents in too many cases have been frustrated in their efforts to make wellness policy changes.

The policy is supposed to be updated every three years.

Fortunately for us in the District of Columbia, we now have a food services director--Jeffrey Mills--who would like nothing better than serve the kind of food Alice Waters would be proud of. I was pleasantly surprised at how open the process of revising our wellness policy was--even though I didn't get everything I wanted.

For instance, I pushed for a policy that would have prohibited children bringing sodas or sugary beverages from home to drink with their lunch in the cafeteria. But Mills and others thought the community wasn't ready to go this far. They favor a "go slow" approach to avoid controversy. They did include language saying "schools will encourage teachers and families to not bring soda and other beverages high in sugar content on school grounds, including in student lunches from home."

My fellow committee members were also leery of lecturing school staff on what they eat. But we did approve a bullet item stating that "school staff should be encouraged to model healthy eating habits for the students," meaning employees "are strongly encouraged to not consume frood in front of students that do not meet" the HealthierUS School Challenge standards.

Since I first exposed what Chartwells was serving in D.C. cafeterias, school food service has seen some dramatic changes. A "Healthy Schools Act" approved by the D.C. Council established extra funding for meals that include local produce. Mills, after being hired in late 2009 as food services director, undertook a massive overhaul of the Chartwells menu, eliminating flavored milk and sugary cereals and other treats such as Pop-Tarts, Giant Goldfish Grahams and Otis Spunkmeyer muffins. Kitchen workers received extra training, and they now make some meal entrees--such as lasagna--from scratch.

D.C. also pays for a free breakfast for every child that wants one. In elementary schools where more than 40 percent of students are considered low-income, breakfast is served in the classroom. The city also now pays for children who normally would be eligible for a "reduced price" lunch to get theirs free. D.C. Public Schools operates a city-wide supper program for kids who stay late, and further subsidizes meals with $6 million or more in annual deficit spending.

Still, when a school district contracts with a big food service company like Chartwells or Sodexo or Aramark, it should expect to see meals comprised largely of processed frozen foods. The level of oversight Mills and his team brings to bear is unusual. They are now trying to place salad bars in all 121 of the schools under their jurisdiction. (Charter schools operate independently. Indeed, they are each required to draft their own individual wellness policies.)

As we are learning, however, drafting a policy and seeing it actually take effect can be two different things. For instance, in our last meeting we learned that while schools are required to provide at least 30 minutes of physical education for all primary grades, and 45 minutes in senior schools, some principals have instructed their PE teachers instead to have the kids read, to boost test scores. In fact, the school officials at the table urged me and other community members that the best way to address problems like that may be for us to draft a letter to the schools chancellor. Apparently, working up the chain of command doesn't necessarily get results.

Yet under "Healthy Schools," kids beginning in 2014 are supposed to be getting five times as much PE--150 hours per week in elementary school, 225 minutes per week in grades six through eight.

Similarly, although the wellness policy states that every child should have at least 30 minutes to eat lunch "after the last student passes through the line," I don't know of any school where that currently is the case. Especially in schools with high enrollment of low-income children, who tend to take the federally subsidized meal rather than bringing one from home, those lunch lines can be very long. In my daughter's elementary school last year, for instance, the lunch period was only 30 minutes long, and the last kid who went through the line typically did not have much more than 15 minutes to eat.

Woodrow Wilson Senior High School in far Northwest Washington has some 1,600 students, yet only one lunch period for its undersized cafeteria. Lunch is said to be pure chaos.

Next on the agenda for the wellness committee may be figuring out how the school can arrange training sessions for staff so that they actually know what's in the policy and what they need to do to comply with it. Federal rules require that the wellness policy be distributed to staff and made easily available to the public, such as by posting it on school websites and keeping copies for public inspection in the school office.

Other highlights: nutrition education that integrated into other content areas such as math, science, language arts and socials studies and teach "media literacy with an emphasis on food marketing." Schools must provide at least 20 minutes of recess daily, and it should come before lunch "whenever possible." Schools are required to increase participation in meal programs through a "coordinated, comprehensive outreach plan" that builds community coalitions and may include after-school cooking clubs for families, parent workshops and community/school gardens.

Under the federal mandate, we are also required to figure out a way to collect data and masure the impact of implementing the wellness policy. In other words, we still have our work cut out for us.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Swedish-U.S. Farm to School Meetup

Annika Unt Widell, left, with Andrea Northup
By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

As part of "Nordic Week" in D.C. Public Schools, one of the people I met on my recent fact-finding mission to Sweden was here in the District of Columbia. Annika Unt Widell, spokeswoman for better school food in Sweden, had flown here to mentor Swedish students who had competed for a chance to take part in food preparation for "Nordic Week."

I wish some of my friends in D.C. schools had thought to invite me for all the work that went on behind the scenes--rolling thousands of Swedish meatballs and preparing some 10,000 pounds of Norwegian salmon for Wednesday's lunch. Annika was anxious to see our farm to school program in action, so on Friday I drove with her to the Arcadia Farm at Woodlawn Plantation. In the photo above, she's conferring with another hero of the school food movement--Andrea Northup--whose brilliant idea it was to form the D.C. Farm to School Network.

A garden for kids at Woodlawn Plantation

Andrea created the farm to school network two years ago after graduating from college. The idea sparked a movement, drawing hundreds of supporters, including many of the city's non-profits involved in agricultural issues and food access and hordes of chefs anxious to get involved in efforts to improve local school food. My own involvement was accidental: I met Andrea while catering a reception for the D.C. Schoolyard Greening organization and wound up on the network's advisory board. But Andrea doesn't need much advice. She's made this idea work mostly on her own, including finding grant money to fuel the project.

Andrea originally found a home for the network at the Capitol Area Food Bank in northeast D.C. But this year she struck up a partnership with a local restaurant business called Neighborhood Restaurant Group and its foundation arm, Arcadia. They struck a deal with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to start a children's garden at Woodlawn Plantation, a property once owned by George Washington and located just a few miles from Mount Vernon in suburban Virginia. It's called Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, "dedicated to creating a more equitable and sustainable food system and culture in the Washington, DC area and a collaborative space for the many local efforts and initiatives around better food."

The garden and the staff who tend it now host regular visits from D.C. school children. The D.C. Farm to School Network at Arcadia also retrofitted a bio-diesel-fueled school bus to take garden plants and fresh produce to D.C. schools--a kind of garden on wheels.

Kids love to dig in the garden

On Friday, the garden was hosting a group of children from the private Lab School. Among the organized activities, kids learn about butterflies and how salads grow. But I think their favorite part is just running around and digging in the dirt with rakes. There are plenty of herbs for kids to touch and smell. Straw hats provided by the garden give the kids a real professional gardener look.

Kids posing as bees deliver pollen

To demonstrate how plants depend on bees and other insects for pollination, the kids get little baskets filled with colored balls of cotton. Their job is to fly around the garden and deposit the "pollen" in baskets hanging from strategically planted wooden posts.

Finally it was time for the children to get a lesson in harvesting greens and vegetables for a salad. They don't need much instruction before they are racing from one raised bed to the next, plucking leaves of lettuce and mustard greens and yanking jumbo-sized carrots out of the soil.

Catch of the day: carrots

My job was to peel and chop carrots and one giant beet for a salad bar. The garden has it's own weather-proof salad bar in the outdoor "kitchen" and eating area. The kids would also get a demonstration in salad and vinaigrette making from a professional chef, before having their turn at the salad bar.

A 7-year-old who knows his salad

We couldn't stay for lunch. Annika had to get back to her hotel and prepare for the flight back to Sweden. But I know she was impressed. They may have universal free school lunches in Sweden, but the farm to school concept has yet to catch fire. Schools there simply don't have the funds to transport children to farms on a regular basis. And that's part of the attraction of Arcadia: it's closer to city schools than any traditional farm, and you don't have to find a farmer willing to take visitors.

"I'll always remember this day," Annika said.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Kids Make Swedish Split Pea Soup and Pancakes

Sour cream of lingonberry jam on your pancake?

By Ed Bruske

aka The Slow Cook

If it's Thursday, it must be split pea soup and pancakes with lingonberry jam. At least that's the custom in Sweden where our food appreciation classes happen to be visiting on their virtual world culinary tour.

Concidentally, this was happening at the same time D.C. Public Schools were celebrating Nordic day, with traditional foods being supplied by the embassies of Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland.

The split pea soup I remember from childhood was thick as mud and full of little bits of gelatinous fat from the ham bone that was cooked in it. The soup we made is over-the-top delicious. Still, it's not especially pretty, except for the bits of carrot (not fat) swimming around in it, and getting the kids to eat it takes a bit of cajoling. But once they find out how good it tastes, they come back for more. And it's such an inexpensive way to make a family meal, even if you just serve bread on the side instead of the pancakes.

Why pancakes with split pea soup? Frankly, I don't know. I guess you'd have to ask the Swedes. It's a bit like dessert--especially if your stuff your pancake with jam. The pancakes are bit more like eggy crepes than the thick, floury pancakes we're used to here. Personally, I like the combination of sour cream and lingonberry jam on mine.

The Swedes are especially proud of their berries, which thrive during the long, northerly days in summer. Lingonberries are a bit tart, like cranberries, which makes for an interesting jam. I was surprised to find it at our local Harris Teeter's. But then my wife brought some home from a shopping trip to Ikea, the Swedish furnishings store, and it was $2 cheaper. It's rather a long way to drive for jam, though.

Make the soup a day ahead so the flavors have a chance to develop. Start by place 1 pound dried yellow peas (we got ours from the bulk section at Whole Foods), 2 onions peeled and finely chopped and 2 carrots peeled and finely chopped in a stock pot and cover with 8 cups water. Add 1 onion studded with two cloves and 2 ham hocks. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and cook slowly for 3 hours. Remove the onion with cloves and the ham hocks. If there's any meat on the hocks, you can chop it up and add it to the soup if you like. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

About 30 minutes before serving, bring the soup back to a simmer and stir in 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves and 1 teaspoon ground ginger.

The pancakes can also be made ahead and held warm in the oven. This recipe makes about 2 dozen, each about 4 inches across. You can make the batter in a blender or a food processor, but we don't use electric gadgets in our classes. We simply whisked it together by hand. I think the kids get a better feel for the ingredients and the food preparation process working this way.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk until frothy three eggs. Mix in 1 1/2 cups milk, then add 1 cup flour, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar and finally 3 tablespoons melted butter. Continue whisking vigorously until the batter is perfectly smooth, without and lumps.

Over moderate heat, melt some butter in a small, well-cured or non-stick skillet. Pour in some pancake batter. You can make the pancakes as small or as large as you like. When the underside has lightly browned and the top is nearly dry, use an inverted spatula to flip the pancake onto the other side. Cook for about 30 seconds and remove. Repeat this process until all of the batter has been used.

Serve with sour cream and lingonberry jam.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ann Cooper Rallies Parents in Fairfax for Food Day

"Renegade lunch lady" today in Vienna, Va.

Guest Post

By Ann Cooper

Food Day is such an important event to help draw attention to the broken parts of our food system while celebrating all of the wonderful chefs, cooks, farmers, parents, advocates and food service teams that are working to bring healthy and delicious food to our nation’s children. In honor of National Food Day, Monday, October 24, 2011, I will be joined by local DC chef and fellow sustainable food activist, David Guas, to visit the students at Wolftrap Elementary School in Vienna, Virginia where we will be celebrating Real Food For Kids (RFFK).

Real Food For Kids is an education-based advocacy group of concerned Fairfax County parents who are stepping in to improve the quality of food being served in their schools. What started as a small group of parents has now grown into a community-wide machine. RFFK aims to eliminate the high percentage of processed foods laden with dyes, artificial preservatives, and flavorings as well as trans-fats, high fructose corn syrup and excess sugar and salt. In FCPS schools, a hamburger alone has more than 30 ingredients, while a FCPS quesadilla has over 70.

Chef David Guas, who is moved by Real Food For Kids as both a chef but also as a parent of two young boys in the Northern Virginia school system, wants to help “change, inspire, and teach my sons and our community to go for the natural choice.“ With Fairfax as one of the largest public school counties in the U.S., Real Food For Kids, myself and chef Guas will push for these changes, especially when it comes to school lunches. In fact, at Wolftrap Elementary, Guas and I will work with the students to make a truck-full sized salad and a 10-lb grass-fed beef burger thanks to donations from local Maple Avenue Farms and Whole Foods.

To find out more information on our event and Real Food For Kids, visit us at

And here's this from the organizers:

How many ingredients does it take to make a quesadilla? 70. At least in Fairfax County public school cafeterias. In an effort to draw attention to the link between school food and children’s health and wellness, the Fairfax County Real Food For Kids is heating it up for National Food Day, October 24, at 2:30 pm, Wolftrap Elementary School in Vienna, VA, immediately following a 1:30pm food sourcing and planning meeting with the Fairfax County School Board and special guest, Jeff Mills, Director of Food Service for the District's Public Schools, at the same location. All Fairfax County School Board members and candidates have been invited to attend the Food Day event. The organizing group, a grass-roots organization of Fairfax County parents, hopes to urge the school board to take action on getting “real” food affordably back into Fairfax County public schools. The Wolftrap Elementary School PTA is the premier host for the RealKids.RealFood event on October 24.

The GET REAL! RealKids.RealFood event will feature celebrated author, chef, educator and advocate, The Renegade Lunch Lady Ann Cooper from Colorado and culinary personality and award winning chef, David Guas of Arlington’s Bayou Bakery Coffee Bar & Eatery. Cooper will address the Fairfax County School Board to discuss ways to provide “real” food for students without increasing costs. Chefs Cooper and Guas, working alongside some Fairfax County students, will also create a truck-full sized salad and an over-sized grass-fed beef burger! Bigger is better when it comes to real food for your kids- vegetables and 100% protein, straight from the source.

Two Hundred children, from Fairfax County Schools, are expected to attend and will be sporting GET REAL T-Shirts colored in varied rainbow hues of vegetables and fruits. Each child, in their designated colored T Shirt, will be placed in a specific space to spell out each letter from the words GET REAL. What an incredible image to see the children coming together spread out across the School’s grass field. These kids are showing the way to others that healthy food can be seen in vibrant colors and not so bland.

Local farmer Chris Guerre of Maple Avenue Farm is donating over 50 pounds of grass-fed beef, lettuce, tomatoes for the salad (to feed 250) and Chef Tim Ma, owner of Maple Avenue Restaurant, is coming out to lend a culinary hand while doing all the cooking on his portable truck. Whole Foods Market is a lead sponsor for the event, providing free healthy snack vouchers, butternut squash soup to sample for participating students as well as other donations to secure a successful event.

Urging School Board members to come to the table to discuss the problems of childhood obesity and school food that is highly processed, artificial, preserved and dyed, Real Food for Kids’ JoAnne Hammermaster says, “Children deserve healthier choices while they are at school.”

Hammermaster also notes that the group is pleased to be part of a major new campaign that involves some of the most prominent voices for change in the food policy world. Organized by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Day, a nation-wide event, will encourage people around the country to sponsor or participate in activities that encourage Americans to "eat real" and support healthy, affordable food grown in a sustainable, humane way. Food Day is modeled on Earth Day and is led by honorary co-chairs Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).

Real Food For Kids ( has also developed a Food Day education program for Fairfax County Schools, to be disseminated through participating PTAs. For more information, contact JoAnne Hammermaster at or 703-581-3085.

2:00 pm – School children arrive please
2:30 pm - Children will spell out GET REAL for photo opportunities.
2:45 pm - Speakers and Cooking Demonstration
3:15 pm - Salad, soup, and other healthy snacks are distributed to the audience.


Wolftrap Elementary School – 1903 Beulah Road, Vienna, Virginia 22182 (it is near the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts)

For More Information:
Simone Rathle- 703.534.8100

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Senate Posts New School Lunch Score: Potatoes 1, USDA 0

Spuds win out over kids' health

By Ed Bruske

aka The Slow Cook

In an unprecedented act of meddling in school lunch rule making, the U.S. Senate last week approved by unanimous consent a measure that forbids the U.S. Department of Agriculture from limiting the amount of potatoes in the national school meals program.

Mainstream media got it wrong: This was not a defeat for the Obama administration or for first lady Michelle Obama. Rather, it was a clear case of congressional double-speak, overturning a mandate Congress itself gave the USDA seven years ago to conform school meals with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Senate action reverses the work of food science experts at the Institute of Medicine, who had spent years at the USDA's behest drafting the new guidelines Congress had ordered.

The problem with potatoes is that kids like them too much and schools serve them all the time in order to comply with the vegetable requirement in the school lunch program. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, however, recommended eating a variety of vegetables daily and throughout the week.

Here's what those guidelines say:

Consume a sufficient amount of fruits and vegetables while staying within energy needs. Two cups of fruit and 2½ cups of vegetables per day are recommended for a reference 2,000-calorie intake, with higher or lower amounts depending on the calorie level.

Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables each day. In particular, select from all five vegetable subgroups (dark green, orange, legumes, starchy vegetables, and other vegetables) several times a week.

In order to align with those guidelines, the new school meal rules drafted by the Institute of Medicine, and embraced by the USDA, proposed limiting potatoes and other starchy vegetables such as corn, peas and lima beans to no more than 1 cup per week, and increasing the portions of dark green and orange vegetables and legumes.

That touched off a storm of protest from the potato industry, as well as numerous congressmen, who wrote the USDA demanding that the potato restriction be removed in the final rule. Last week's drubbing of the USDA process came in the form of an amendment to the 2012 agriculture spending measure jointly proposed by two senators from potato growing states, Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado.

Collins and others argued the nutrition benefits of potatoes, suggesting schools should simply remove fatty french fries. Proponents of the new rule repeated the call for more vegetable variety in school meals. Perhaps they would have gotten further if they'd pointed out that starchy spuds are not an appropriate food to be feeding children in the middle of an obesity epidemic. A recent Harvard study, which looked at the eating habits of more than 120,000 American men and women over a 20-year period, found that potatoes more than any other food were associated with excess weight gain, regardless of whether they are fried, boiled or baked.

In fact, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that obesity is not caused solely by a failure to burn off all the calories consumed, but by the metabolic effects of eating too many carbohydrates, especially highly glycemic carbs such as potatoes, refined grains and sugar.

The Senate action represents a naked display of agricultural interests and political emotion trumping the science around kids health. So I thought readers might like to see exactly what was motivating members of the Institute of Medicine committee when they wrote their 380-page report, first released in October 2009, proposing the school meal nutrition guidelines the Senate has not tossed overboard.

Here's what the committee said:

The overall goal was the development of a set of well-conceived and practical recommendations for nutrients and Meal Requirements that reflect current nutrition science, increase the meals’ contents of key food groups, improve the ability of the school meal programs to meet the nutritional needs of children, foster healthy eating habits, and safeguard children’s health.

In recognition of the need to update and revise the Nutrition Standards and Meal Requirements for the school meal programs, Congress incorporated requirements in the 2004 Child Nutrition and WIC6 Reauthorization Act (P.L. 108-265). In particular, the act requires USDA to issue guidance and regulations to promote the consistency of the standards for school meal programs with the standards provided in the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans...

Among the changes needed to improve consistency with the 2005 edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans are the following:

  • Increasing the emphasis on food groups to encourage a healthier food consumption pattern, especially by offering variety and a larger amount of fruits and vegetables, and by offering whole grains as a substitute for some refined grains, and
  • Limiting the intake of saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, added sugars, and salt by offering foods such as fat-free (skim) milk or low-fat milk, fewer sweetened foods, and foods with little added salt.

Charge to the Committee

  • Specify a planning model for school meals (including targets for intake) as it may relate to nutrients and other dietary components for breakfast and lunch.
  • Recommend revisions to the Nutrition Standards and, in consideration of the appropriate age-grade groups for schoolchildren, provide the calculations that quantify the amounts of nutrients and other dietary components specified in the Nutrition Standards.
  • Recommend the Meal Requirements necessary to implement the Nutrition Standards on the basis of the two existing types of menu planning approaches (i.e., the food-based menu planning [FBMP] approach and the nutrient-based menu planning [NBMP] approach). The Meal Requirements are to include
    • standards for a food-based reimbursable meal by identifying
      • the food components for as offered and as served meals and
      • the amounts of food items per reimbursable meal by age-grade groups and
    • standards for a nutrient-based reimbursable meal by identifying
      • the menu items for as offered and as served and
      • the 5-day average amounts of nutrients and other dietary components per meal.
  • Illustrate the practical application of the revised Nutrition Standards and Meal Requirements by developing 4 weeks of menus that will meet the recommended standards for the age-grade groups.

Critical Issues for Consideration by the Committee on Nutrition Standards for National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, as Submitted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture1

There are a number of important issues on which USDA particularly seeks guidance. In the descriptions below, we have raised a number of questions and concerns, as well as tentative policy concepts for IOM’s [Institute of Medicine] critical review. These are intended to clarify the scope of the committee’s charge, but not to constrain or pre-determine its recommendations. We also ask the committee to consider such operational factors as market conditions, impacts on student acceptability of meals, and the decision to participate in the program, in making recommendations in each of these areas.1

Calorie requirements:

Since the establishment of the school meal programs, the dietary concerns for children have shifted from preventing hunger and nutritional deficiencies to recognizing the increase of childhood overweight/obesity rates while enhancing cognitive performance and academic achievement. FNS [USDA's Food and Nutrition Services branch] requests that the committee provide recommendations for calorie levels in consideration of the best scientific information available (including the DRIs) that reflect the diversity of energy needs in today’s school children. FNS would like the IOM committee to provide minimum calorie requirements, and consider also recommending maximum calorie levels for reimbursable meals that take into consideration age-grade groupings.

Age-grade groups:

The NSLP [National School Lunch Program] nd SBP [School Breakfast Program] provide meals for children age two and older (generally, under 21). The meal programs group children according to age-grade and establish meal patterns with minimum portion sizes and servings to help menu planners design meals that are age-appropriate and meet the diverse nutritional needs of school children. Nutrient and calorie requirements are also determined for each age-grade groups. In light of the childhood obesity trend, FNS is concerned that school meals provide age-appropriate portion sizes and promote the development of healthy eating behaviors. We request that the committee recommend age-grade groups that are consistent for all menu planning approaches and reflect the stages of growth and development in children and adolescents.

School grade structures and meal service operations must be considered to ensure that age-grade group recommendations can be successfully implemented. Specifically, in the NSLP, some schools currently use a single age-grade group to plan meals for children and adolescents. The Department is concerned that for lunch meals intended to provide ⅓ of the RDAs without providing excessive calories, this practice may result in meals that fail to meet the nutritional needs of either group. While the same may be true for SBP, where the meals are intended to provide ¼ of the RDAs, FNS recognizes that there are different operational constraints. In the SBP, children typically participate as they arrive at school, rather than by grade level or other service schedule that would be common in lunch. The single age-grade group currently allowed for SBP menu planning is intended to provide flexibility to meet the needs of the SBP foodservice operation. Also of note, many schools have implemented alternative methods of delivering meals to promote student participation, such as Breakfast in the Classroom or Grab-and-Go Breakfasts. FNS requests that the committee consider the potential impacts that age-grade group requirements may have on the unique aspects of NSLP and SBP meal service, operations, and participation.

Nutrient standards:

FNS requests that in addition to the current required nutrients, the IOM committee consider the DGA [Dietary Guidelines for Americans] recommendations to minimize trans fats, as well as the intake recommendations for sodium, cholesterol, and fiber, which currently do not have quantitative standards in the school meal programs. Program operators are currently required to reduce sodium and cholesterol levels and to increase fibers levels. Monitoring these nutrients has been facilitated by the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act requirement that sodium, cholesterol, and fiber amounts be included on food labels and product specifications. Furthermore, trans fats information is now required to be included on the Nutrition Facts label and on product specifications, which would facilitate the ability of Program operators and administrators to monitor compliance with the trans fats recommendation.

Total fat:

The DGA recommendation for fat is to keep total fat intake between 30 to 35 percent of calories for children 2 to 3 years of age and between 25 to 35 percent of calories daily for children and adolescents 4 to 18 years of age. It should be noted that breakfast meals are often relatively low in fat (below 25 percent). The fat recommendation for each of the meals, in addition to the total daily fat range, should be considered in this process.

Available nutrient information:

Program operators and administrators rely in part on nutrition information provided by food labels and product specifications to plan and assess menus that meet the required nutrient levels. FNS is concerned that establishing requirements for nutrients that are not required to be listed on food labels and product specifications by the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA, P.L. 101-535), such as the nutrients of concern for children including potassium, magnesium, and vitamin E, would be a burden to Program operators and administrators. FNS requests that nutrient standard recommendations take into consideration the availability of nutrient information on food labels and product specifications.

Sodium standard:

It is well-recognized that the current intake of sodium for most individuals in the U.S., including school-age children, greatly exceeds the DGA recommendation to consume less than 2300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. FNS has encouraged schools to reduce sodium in the NSLP and SBP since the implementation of the School Meals Initiative (SMI) in 1995; however, the School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Studies (SNDA I–III) consistently indicate that the efforts since 1995 have not resulted in any significant reduction of sodium levels in school meals, on average.

FNS is concerned that the challenge of reducing sodium levels in school meals extends beyond the efforts of Program operators and administrators alone. At present, sodium is a common addition to processed foods and convenience items which are commonly used in school meal programs to save time and reduce labor costs. Additionally, the availability of high so-dium foods at home, at restaurants, and at other locations in and outside of the school meals programs has resulted in a taste preference for salty foods which impacts student acceptability of school meals and Program participation. Furthermore, it takes time to change children’s taste preferences and for industry to respond to a need for low-sodium products in schools and the general market.

The USDA requests that the committee consider student acceptability, Program participation, and market conditions when making recommendations for sodium levels in school meals. Additionally, the Department requests that the committee consider a recommendation that would allow for a progressive or gradual reduction of sodium levels in school meals, such as interim targets, to ultimately meet a standard based on the DGA recommendation over a realistic period of time without adversely affecting program participation.

Vitamin A standard:

Current regulations require that school meals meet minimum levels of vitamin A expressed in Retinol Equivalents (RE), as specified in the 1989 RDAs. The nutrition facts panel on food products provides vitamin A levels in International Units (IU). The most recent DRI standards for vitamin A are quantified in Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE). FNS is concerned that there is no direct conversion from the DRI recommendations in RAE to IU. FNS requests that the committee recommend a vitamin A standard that addresses the fact that Program operators and administrators rely both on values in nutrient analysis software (which may be in RAE, RE and/or IU) and on food labels and product specifications that quantify vitamin A in IU (i.e., percent of Daily Value in International Units). FNS recognizes that a conversion from levels expressed in RAE to IU may need to be based on representation of a mixed diet for school-aged children.

Menu planning approaches:

FNS would like the committee to examine the adequacy of the current menu planning approaches in meeting the applicable DRIs and DGAs. We are concerned that the structure of the current menu planning approaches, such as the Traditional FBMP and NSMP, may no longer be adequate to provide school meals that reflect the 2005 DGAs. Furthermore, FNS would like recommendations for a single food-based menu planning and a single nutrient standard menu planning approach. FNS requests that the IOM recommendations result in age-appropriate meals and reflect the applicable DRIs and 2005 DGAs under any menu planning approach.

Fruit, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat/fat-free milk products:

The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 amended the NSLA to require increased consumption of foods that are specifically recommended in the most recent DGAs. FNS is requesting recommendations to increase the availability of the food groups encouraged by the 2005 DGAs. FNS wishes to apply requirements for these food groups to ensure that all students in the NSLP and SBP have access to adequate amounts of these recommended foods, regardless of the menu planning approach used by their school foodservice authority.

Current NSLP regulations require that minimum servings of fruits and/or vegetables, fluid milk, and whole grain or enriched sources of grains/breads be offered daily in the food-based menu planning approaches. In the nutrient standard menu planning approaches, fluid milk is the only required food item to be offered and minimum serving requirements are not established. Under all menu planning approaches, whole grains are encouraged but not required. Additionally, all schools must provide a variety of fluid milk types (a minimum of two); regulations do not place restrictions on offering any milk-fat or flavored varieties.

In the SBP, meal patterns and menu structures have been designed to provide schools with flexibility to provide meals that reflect a typical breakfast meal and avoid unnecessary burden on school foodservice operations. FNS requests that the committee consider such differences between NSLP and SBP meal service operations when making recommendations to increase the food groups encouraged by the 2005 DGAs in the FBMP breakfast meal pattern and the NSMP menu structure.

Special considerations for whole grains:

  • In order to incorporate whole grains into the menus, schools must be able to accurately identify a creditable whole-grain product. An issue for FNS is helping schools easily identify whole grain products that provide a significant level of whole grains. At this time, the FDA has not published a definition of a whole-grain product, or a whole-grain serving. USDA wishes to establish a consistent definition for all the FNS Special Nutrition Programs (including NSLP, SBP, Child and Adult Care Food Program, the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), WIC, and the FNS commodity programs).

Special considerations for fluid milk:

  • The NSLA and program regulations require that lunches include fluid milk and allow fluid milk in a variety of fat contents and flavors. Fluid milk may not be substituted by another beverage or dairy product, except when a disability precludes milk consumption.2 Under the FBMP approaches, a minimum of eight fluid ounces is required for school-age children and a minimum of six fluid ounces is required for preschoolers. No minimum quantity is required under the NSMP approaches. Since calcium is a nutrient of concern for children and milk is a primary food source of nutrients for children, FNS is seeking recommendations to implement the recommendations of the DGAs and DRIs. When considering this, the IOM expert committee should also address concerns that offering different quantity for the various age-grade groups in the NSLP and SBP may be operationally difficult to implement at the local school level due to procurement logistics and economies of scale.

Meat/Meat Alternate:

The current meat/meat alternate requirements in the NSLP meal patterns exceed the recommended quantities in the USDA Food Guide, the food pattern that illustrates the recommendations of the DGAs. The School Nutrition Dietary Assessment (SNDA) studies show that current meal patterns require more than adequate amounts of meat/meat alternate to meet the nutritional (protein and iron) needs of children and adolescents. There may be adjustments to existing meat/meat alternate requirements that could help schools limit food costs while still meeting the nutritional needs of participants. Schools could meet the meat/meat alternate requirement over the course of the week as long as a minimum serving of meat/meat alternate is offered daily. Consistent with the DGAs, schools should offer low-fat, lean meat/meal alternates to help children limit the intakes of saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol. In addition, there is public interest in incorporating nutrient-dense meat alternatives such as soy-based products in the NSLP.

Offer versus Serve:

The IOM committee may need to be aware of Offer versus Serve, a statutory requirement intended to reduce plate waste in the lunch program. The NSLA requires that high school students be allowed to decline foods they do not intend to eat. Offer versus Serve may be implemented at lower grades at the option of the local school district. Program regulations require that students select at least three of the five food items offered in a food-based menu. For nutrient-based menus, the regulations require that students select the entrée. If three items are offered, students may decline one; if four or more items are offered, students may decline two.

Attainable recommendations:

The majority of schools prepare meals on-site with a small staff and restricted budget. Food purchasing, planning, preparation and service are often carried out by employees with no formal food service or management training. Changes to the meal patterns and nutrition standards must be feasible for school foodservice operators, and should not jeopardize student and school participation in the meal programs. To ensure that the combined set of recommendations are attainable, the Department requests IOM to include in the report separately for NSLP and SBP a set of four-week cycle menus for each of the recommended age groups that meet all recommendations, are relatively cost neutral and would not likely have an adverse effect on program participation.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Nordic Love: Kids Make Swedish Meatballs

Best meatballs in 1 hour

By Ed Bruske

aka The Slow Cook

Just in time for the "Nordic Day" festivities in D.C. Public Schools next week, my food appreciation classes arrived in Scandinavia on our virtual world food tour and made the best meatballs you've ever tasted from scratch--including fresh bread crumbs and white sauce--in less than an hour.

It helps to have a portable burner to make the sauce at the prep table. Otherwise, the stove is about 30 paces away, and running back and forth gets tired after a while. The kids love pulling the bread apart for the crumbs, mixing the beef with the toasted crumbs, onions, eggs and other ingredients, then rolling the mix into balls. Nobody refuses the finished meatballs either. The only question at that point is, do you take them with or without the white sauce? And how about the lingonberry jam?

I tried to explain to the kids that the Swedes like their sweet and savory combinations and that lingonberries are a big deal in the land of the midnight sun. Not all were convinced. Still, I was delighted to find authentic Swedish lingonberry preserves amongst the other jams right next to the peanut butter display at my local Harris Teeter's.

Most Nordic countries have a traditional meatball recipe and there are any number of ways to sauce it. I thought the white sauce was easiest for the time we have allotted for our classes. It makes a good lesson in basic sauce construction.

Start with the fresh bread crumbs. And by all means make them fresh--the stuff in the cans won't due. Use about three thick slices of a country-style loaf (I chose a Tuscan round). Remove the crust and chop the white part fairly fine. Spread on a baking sheet and toast lightly in a 450 degree oven. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl beat 2 eggs. Add 1 small onion, minced, and 1 1/2 pounds (or a little less) ground beef. Add bread crumbs and mix well, seasoning to taste with salt, black pepper and a generous pinch of ground nutmeg. You would do well to work the mix for a few seconds with your hands. Kids love squishing it between their fingers.

Use a measuring spoon to scoop out heaping tablespoons of meat mix. Roll these into balls and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, leaving a little space around each meatball. Place in the 450-degree oven and bake until lightly browned and cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes.

While the meatballs are cooking you can make your sauce. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a small skillet. Add 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and stir together to create a roux. Cook over moderate heat, stirring, for a minute or two, then begin adding 1 cup chicken broth. Stir continuously while you add the broth. The sauce will still be quite thick. As it begins to bubble again, add about 1/3 cup half-and-half, or enough to make a fairly thick sauce. Remember that it will thicken more as it cools. Season with salt and possibly a little nutmeg.

Serve the meatballs warm, covered with sauce, with some lingonberry jam on the side. Our kids got them in hot drink cups with a spoon. Hold any leftover meatballs warm, as your family is bound to ask for seconds.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Nordic Day in D.C. Schools

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Coinciding perfectly with my recent school food fact finding mission to Sweden, the D.C. Public Schools next week are holding a "Nordic Day," supported by several local embassies. As well as a menu of classic nordic foods for all 45,000 DCPS students, the embassies will be providing musical entertainment and other activities at individual schools.

Here's the skinny:

WHAT: The Embassies of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, together with the D.C. Public Schools’ Office of Food & Nutrition Services and the DC Embassy Adoption Program, will bring Nordic food to all 45,000 D.C. Public School students at 125 DC schools on Nordic Food Day, DCPS’ first ever celebration of international food and culture.

The purpose of Nordic Food Day is to expose students to new, nutritious, appetizing foods in school while encouraging them to recreate these recipes with their parents or guardians at home. A Nordic cook book with easy do-it-yourself recipes will be distributed to DCPS students on the day of the event.

Beginning on October 25th, Nordic “Food Mentors” sponsored by Nordic Innovation will be visiting 20 schools to introduce DCPS students to Nordic culture and culinary tradition. On October 26th, authentic Nordic dishes, including Swedish meatballs, Norwegian salmon, Finnish rye bread and Icelandic inspired Skyr, along with Danish inspired open-faced sandwiches, will be served to all students for breakfast, lunch, and supper. Menu items will be prepared by five Nordic chef apprentices who will be visiting D.C. as winners of a Nordic culinary competition.

Four elementary schools which have been paired with the Nordic countries through the D.C. Embassy Adoption Program will have special events take place during lunchtime on Nordic Food Day.

A reception will be held following the day’s events at the residence of the Norwegian Ambassador. A fundraiser for DCPC schools to bring more salad bars into the schools will be held at the Danish Embassy with chef Trina Hahnemann and the band ‘Suspicious Package’.

Nordic Day is the inaugural event for DCPS’ International Food Program. Four food days will be co-sponsored by D.C. embassies annually to introduce students to new tastes and cultural experiences, and to lay the foundation for increased cross-cultural exchange.

WHO: HRH Prince Daniel of Sweden, Ministers, Mayor Vincent Gray, Ambassadors of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, Nordic celebrity chefs, Janey Thornton, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services and Jeffrey Mills, DCPS Food & Nutrition Services Director.


· Nordic Innovation



Kenilworth Elementary School

Embassy of Denmark

1300 44th Street NE

Lunch: tbd

* Chef Trina Hahnemann will share Danish food and talk about eating healthy and sharing a meal at home with your family

*Get your photo taken with a real live ‘Tivoli Guard’

*Piano music, face painting and lots of fun the happy Danish way!

Media Contact:

Pernille Florin Elbech

Senior Advisor, Public Diplomacy & Press


O: 202.797.5362

C: 202.320.0098

River Terrace Elementary School

420 34th Street NE

Embassy of Finland

Lunch: 12:00-1:00PM

*Live music -Finnish singer Meri Siirala & saxophonist Anders Lundegård who are going to sing together with the students in Finnish

* Demo and food tasting by Ambassador's chef

* Lively information about Finnish schools & school food; healthy snack plate

* A short Moomin movie

Media Contact:

Jenni Jarventaus, Media Relations Coordinator


O: 202. 298.5821
C: 202.615.5811

Brookland Education Campus

1401 Michigan Avenue NE

Embassy of Iceland and Embassy of Norway

Lunch: 12:00-1:10PM

*Icelandic Jazz musician Björn Thoroddsen and fiddler Vilde Aasland

*Giveaways from both embassies

*Visitors from both embassies, some of them wearing national costumes

*Food from both Norway and Iceland

Media Contact:

Pia Ulrikke Dahl
Cultural and Information Officer

O: 202.469.3977
C: 202.344.6089

Miner Elementary School

601 15th Street NE

Embassy of Sweden

Lunch: 11:00 AM -1:00PM

*HRH Prince Daniel of Sweden, Mayor Vincent Gray, Sweden’s Minister of Social Affairs and the Ambassador of Sweden

*Cultural Activities offered to the children include tasting station, Pippi Longstocking photo booth, educational & craft station and musicians
*All children at Miner Elementary will be involved in the program, including a tour of the school and a Glee Club performance

Media Contact:

Larilyn André


O: 202-467-2644

C: 202-213-2718