Courtesy United Fresh Produce AssociationFirst lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced new school meal guidelines that double the servings of fresh fruit and vegetables on Jan. 25.(UPDATED COVERAGE, Jan. 26) School meals 2.0 will include twice the servings fruits and vegetables as before, and that should mean more business for fresh produce operators.
Wholesalers and fresh produce foodservice distributors should immediately put a priority on building partnerships and business relationships with schools in their communities, said Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C.
“Schools are going to be buying a lot more fruits and vegetables and we want those to be fresh fruits and vegetables because we want kids to taste a wide variety of fresh produce and increase their consumption.”
The long-awaited school nutrition standards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture were introduced by first lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Jan. 25 at an elementary school in Fairfax. Va.
Industry and nutrition advocates were quick to praise the increased emphasis on fruits and vegetables, whole grains and reduced sodium, despite contested allowances for french fries and counting tomato paste on pizza as a vegetable.
The regulation to change school meals for the first time in 15 years drew more than 130,000 comments, USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon said during a news conference on the standards.
“These (science-based standards) are going to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables offered every day of the week to American school children,” he said. Cost of the changes to school meals will be $3.2 billion over five years, about half of the original cost estimate, he said. Savings were realized by phasing in the breakfast fruit requirement and eliminating the meat requirement for breakfast. The final rule also incorporates an “offer versus serve” provision, that allows students to take smaller portions of fruits and vegetables if they desire, he said.
“This is real change for 32 million kids across the country and it will have a real significant and meaningful impact on their lives,” White House assistant chef Sam Kass said in the press conference. “It is gong to take the commitment and creativity from all of us — from school chefs to parents and teachers — to see this through and help lead our kids to really embrace the change we are going to see over the next few years.”
Schools may need some training in achieving weekly menu requirements for serving various vegetable subgroups, said Tracy Fox, president of Food, Nutrition & Policy Consultants LLC, Washington, D.C.