Nutrition experts with the federal government have unveiled new criteria for ensuring that school-aged children across America receive their daily dose of vegetables while limiting the amount of food waste, and it comes in a clever little disguise.
Under the new regulations officially rolled out last week, the US Department of Agriculture now includes pasta made from 100 percent vegetable-based flour or “noodles” made from whole vegetables, like spiralized zucchini or sweet potatoes, to count toward a daily vegetable requirement. Officials say it puts control into the hands of school officials and allows for “common-sense flexibility” when it comes to serving food based on the needs of students.
“Our proposed changes empower schools to give their very best to our children nationwide and have the potential to benefit nearly 100,000 schools and institutions that feed 30 million children each school day through USDA’s school meal programs. Providing children with wholesome, nutritious food is part of our motto at USDA, which is to ‘do right and feed everyone,” said US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in a statement.
The proposed changes were first made in December 2018 and deliver on a May 2017 proclamation to address greater flexibility in meal planning and set out new standards for serving whole grain-rich foods, establishing reduced sodium levels in school meals, and offering milk at meals. At the time that the rule was first announced, the program allowed for schools to count pasta as a vegetable only if it was made with vegetable flour and served along with a recognizable vegetable.
“For example, bean pasta could credit as a vegetable if it was served with additional beans,” wrote the USDA.
Public commentators noted that school meals are “teaching tools for children and visually demonstrate how to build a healthy, balanced meal.” Visible vegetables on the tray help to create understanding, but others argue that presenting vegetables in alternative forms is an “innovative way to offer vegetables in a food item that is popular with children.”
The USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which oversees child nutrition programs and co-develops the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, now allows pasta made of vegetable flour to count as a vegetable whether or not that pasta is served with another recognizable vegetable – a half-cup of pasta made of 100 percent vegetable flour counts as a half-cup serving of vegetables and credit towards that specific group. However, there are certain stipulations for pasta made of both vegetable and non-vegetable ingredients and the credit does not apply to grain-based pasta with a small amount of vegetable powder added for coloring.
“Schools and school districts continue to tell us that there is still too much food waste and that more common-sense flexibility is needed to provide students nutritious and appetizing meals. We listened and now we’re getting to work,” said Secretary Perdue.