Where does pork fit into the new school lunch guidelines?
“There are a lot of gray areas with the government’s new school lunch guidelines, which went into effect in 2012,” says Adria Sheil-Brown, manager of nutrition communications and research for the Pork Checkoff. “Implementation of the federal guidelines can vary by state and even by school district.”
This issue matters to the pork industry because there are nearly 10 fresh and low-sodium pork products available through the federal school lunch program, including pork chops, pork roasts, ham and more. In 2009-2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture bought 100 million pounds of pork, valued at $165 million, for food assistance programs, including school lunch and breakfast.
To help dispel myths and share facts about how pork fits into the new school lunch guidelines, the Pork Checkoff hosted an hour-long “pork school nutrition 101” webinar earlier this fall. Featured speakers included specialists from the Iowa Department of Public Health.
“The National Pork Board and state pork associations have been getting a lot of questions about pork and the new school lunch guidelines, so we brought in the experts,” Sheil-Brown says. “The presenters were enthusiastic, and we had a great turnout from state pork associations and pork producers.”
Healthy School Lunch Options
The Pork Checkoff has developed a school foodservice fact sheet that highlights the benefits of lean pork. Available at the Pork Store, the fact sheet also offers ideas on how to incorporate pork into school foodservice menus.
“Schools are always trying to come up with new ways to interest the kids in healthy eating,” Sheil-Brown says. “We want to remind them that pork is a healthy option that can be used in everything from breakfast sandwiches to tacos.”
Pork Checkoff-funded nutrition research shows that on average, the seven most common cuts of pork are 16% leaner than 20 years ago, and saturated fat has dropped 27%. Pork also packs nutrients in every lean serving. A 3-oz. portion of pork tenderloin, for example, is an excellent source of protein, thiamin, vitamin B6, phosphorus and niacin, as well as a good source of potassium, riboflavin and zinc.
This information is showcased at the Pork Checkoff’s Pork and Health website, which also includes a convenient recipe database. “Foodservice directors are clamoring for pork recipes, and we want to offer them plenty of inspiration and information,” Sheil-Brown says.
Promoting pork in school lunch menus provides another long-term benefit, she adds. “If we can get kids to enjoy pork at an early age, they will hopefully continue to be pork consumers throughout life."
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