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Numbers Game: Answer

ButtermilkWhiteBreadHelperNinety-five percent of bread products available at public school cafeterias across the country are of the refined “white flour” variety, offering negligible amounts of fiber and fewer nutrients than whole grain types.

(Source: 2004 – 2005 United States Department of Agriculture School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study)

This pitiful statistic goes back to issues surrounding federal national lunch guidelines and agricultural subsidies.

According to figures from the School Nutrition Association, school cafeterias receive $2.65 dollars, per student, from the government, for a complete lunch.  Mind you, this amount includes expenses like cafeteria workers’ salaries.

Whole grain options (the few that are available from vendors) cost five or ten additional cents per student, so you can understand why schools are not exactly itching to get more of these healthy foods into their lunch rooms.

I firmly believe the government needs to provide incentives for schools to serve as many grains as possible in their whole, more nutritious form.

A few school districts currently require a certain amount of whole grains on the menu, but that is a completely voluntary move.

Of course, this requirement should be met in the simplest of terms (ie: whole grain tortillas and sliced bread to make wraps and sandwiches, whole grain dinner rolls to accompany entrees, lightly-salted air-popped popcorn as a snack, etc.) as opposed to a sodium-loaded slice of pizza with processed cheese on a semi whole-wheat crust.

Allow me to clarify — the occasional refined grain product is no cause for concern.  A diet does not need to be 100% whole grain to be healthy.

However, in a country where children, on average, get only half of their daily fiber recommendations, it is necessary to examine how improvements can be made.

The guarantee of a 100% whole grain lunch at school is a significant start.

PS: The New York Coalition for Healthy School Lunch has made tremendous strides in several of that city’s public schools.  Check out their website for more information, particularly the “creating change in your school” page.

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6 Comments

  1. Dora Rivas said on November 30th, 2009

    The US Department of Agriculture study Mr. Bellatti referenced evaluated meals served during the 2004-2005 school year. As President of the School Nutrition Association (SNA), I have seen school meals programs nationwide expand their offerings of whole grain products in the last few years. In fact, SNA’s 2009 Operations Report found that of the more than 1,200 school districts surveyed, 96 percent now offer whole grain items in school lunch rooms.

    However, as Mr. Bellatti pointed out, the transition to whole grains is a tremendous challenge for cash-strapped schools. In Virginia’s Alexandria City Public Schools, the switch to whole grain sandwich buns cost the 12,000 student district nearly $75,000. To ensure students have access to an even greater selection of whole grain products, Congress must increase the federal reimbursement rate for school meals during Child Nutrition Reauthorization this Spring.

    Dora Rivas, RD, SNS – SNA President

  2. kate said on November 30th, 2009

    it’s quite ironic isn’t it. correct me if i’m wrong but i believe the wholegrain option used to be cheaper than the polished, white bread; simply because white bread signified refinery and extra manufacturing processes, and so the wealthy usually go for the refined white bread and the poorer people go for the unrefined wholegrain bread. it’s totally opposite right now, with the wholegrain breads being much more expensive than white bread.

    if wholegrain bread require less processing/refining, then why does it still cost more? :/

  3. Andy Bellatti said on November 30th, 2009

    Hi Dora,

    Thank you for stopping by.

    That was the only report I was able to read for free, so I very much appreciate this update. I have updated the post to reflect that information.

    Regarding the recent upsurge of whole grain items: are these 100% whole grain or products like breads partially made with whole wheat flour?

    Also, how well would you say those 1,200 school districts represent the rest of the country?

  4. Andy Bellatti said on November 30th, 2009

    Kate,

    It comes back to issues of spoilage. Since whole wheat products contain the bran and the germ, there is a small amount of (healthy) fats present.

    This causes whole wheat flour to spoil faster than enriched white flour.

    It is the same reason why red peppers are more expensive than green peppers. They are, in essence, the same vegetable, but since red peppers are much closer to spoilage, they retail for more…

  5. Dora Rivas said on November 30th, 2009

    School Nutrition Association (SNA) represents approximately 55,000 school nutrition professionals nationwide. Our 2009 Operations Report survey was sent to a random selection of SNA members who direct school nutrition programs. The 1,207 responses came in from 49 states (excluding Hawaii) and are highly representative of SNA member school districts, which range in size, region and demographics.

    The survey asked participants whether their school districts offer “whole grain items” on a consistent basis in their elementary, middle and high schools, but did not ask respondents to specify whether those items were 100% whole grain.

    SNA and its members are working with organizations such as The Whole Grains Council and The Grains for Health Foundation to promote expanded availability, affordability and quality of whole grain products for school meals programs.

    Dora Rivas, RD, SNS – SNA President

  6. Andy Bellatti said on November 30th, 2009

    Many thanks for the clarification and additional details!

    One further question — of these 90+% of schools that offer whole grain items, do you have data on what percentage of *all* their grain offerings are whole grain, as well as how often whole grain items are available?

    Also, to get statistics correct: even though over 90% of schools offer whole grain items, how much has the “95% of offerings are refined grains” factoid changed in the past few years?

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