New year, new food.

In the United States, August brings the start of the new school year and with it the biggest changes to school food for 15 years.

In January this year First Lady Michelle Obama alongside Tom Vilsack the Agriculture Secretary signed off on new nutrition standards for school meals which will be phased in over the next three years and aim to improve the health and diet of nearly 32 million school children. It should have a massive impact on the health of the nation.

The crucial targets for the changes are:

  • Ensuring students are offered both fruits and vegetables every day of the week;
  • Substantially increasing offerings of whole grain-rich foods;
  • Offering only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties;
  • Limiting calories based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion size; and
  • Increasing the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.

 

More fruit and veg

Schools caterers have been working hard to ensure that when the new school year begins they were able to meet the new menu recommendations, and their UK counterparts can empathise with what a tall order that can be.

In Georgia and Ohio some children have already been getting a taste of the new menus. There are fears that some will struggle with the strict portion and calorie controls. Schools must show compliance or risk losing subsidies.

Although items like pizza, chicken nuggets and hamburgers are still available, all children are required to take at least one serving of fruit or vegetables per meal, and portion sizes of these are much larger. Additionally it’s a chance for schools to source from local suppliers and teach kids about the provenance of their food.

As UK school caterers who’ve been battling to improve meal uptakes since their own changes came into being know, winning the hearts and minds of children – and parents – is more than half the battle, so US schools will be trying a wide array of inventive methods to get kids trying and eating their new meals.

We’ll watch with interest to see what happens in the United States as more schools grapple with the standards and the school year progresses. Perhaps some UK caterers can share some of their best tips for getting the students to keep eating their lunches.

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Here are some of the details for the new US standards.

Calorie limits are set for meals: grades k-5, 550-650 calories; grades 6-8, 600-700 calories; grades 9-12, 750-850 calories.

Schools must offer dark green vegetables, orange/red vegetables and legumes at least once a week, eliminate all added trans-fats and serve only 1 percent or nonfat milk. Under the new regulations all grains – in breads and pastas – must be “whole grain rich.”

To read more about the new standards, visit the USDA website here.

Let’s get curious.

Aside from the Olympics, the global watchword for today is ‘Curiosity’.

After a nine month journey, NASA has landed the rover Curiosity on Mars and it is already beaming pictures back, giving us a close up glimpse at the red planet’s landscape.

One of the stated aims of the mission is to answer an enduring question that continues to intrigue us earthbound humans – was there ever life on Mars?

It’s a human characteristic to look outward and ponder our place in the universe. Now the Curiosity has made our galaxy a little smaller. Likewise this international sporting spectacle of human endeavour brings nations closer together. While we’re all rooting for our national teams, we can recognise effort and excellence no matter where it appears.

And that is the purpose of this website. In the United Kingdom and in the United States, and undoubtedly in other countries around the world, schools catering has become if not a political hot potato, then at least a massive talking point. Recognition that good eating habits begin at an early age, whilst for many countries obesity is an issue that needs urgent attention, has focussed eyes on schools caterers to find ways of tackling these problems through innovation and best practice in their industry.

But within the UK at least our tendency is to be inward looking. We are good at talking to each other and sharing our successes nationally, but we rarely turn our attention overseas to see what our international colleagues can teach us.

So School Food World aims to redress the balance. The hope is that this will build into a useful resource for those involved in schools catering around the world, to draw on the expertise of their global partners and gather examples of best practice or take inspiration from international innovation.

We aim to report, promote and celebrate stories, news and case studies that demonstrate the best that international schools catering has to offer when it comes to providing healthy, nutritious and sustainable meals for our school children, at best value for schools and parents.

And we aim to remember that for many countries poverty and hunger are more pressing issues than wastage and obesity.

We hope you’ll play a part and send us examples of innovation and best practice when you see them, join the debate and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

So come on, let’s get curious about the world of school food.

Welcome to School Food World.

Hello and welcome to School Food World.

I am still in the process of designing the site but when it’s ready the aim is that this will become a website that reports, promotes and celebrates best practice and innovation in schools catering around the world.

The hope is to create a resource for anyone involved in school meal provision that will help them draw on the experience of others and take inspiration from trail blazing international innovation.

Perhaps one day we will see a World School Food Day, or even bring international school caterers together in a symposium that celebrates excellence and cutting edge creativity, all with the aim of ensuring our school children get the best possible, healthiest, most sustainable food, at the best value – wherever they live in the world.

No matter which country around the world that you work in, if you have news or examples of best practice or innovation that’s worth shouting about, you can email me on info@schoolfoodworld.co.uk.

This website is available in .com and .co.uk formats so it will be easy to find no matter where in the world you’re based.

Best practice and innovation in school food around the world