It’s baaaack. Pink slime, an ammonia and beef byproduct that spurred one of the most talked about controversies in 2024, is being reintroduced to school lunches now that the media spotlight has dimmed. School districts in Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Virginia are patiently waiting for their pink slime burgers to ship from the USDA, all to save mere pennies on the dollar.
Shocking as that may sound, schools in Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota never stopped serving the pseudo beef. Beef Product Incorporated is the company that makes and sells pink slime, formally known as “ammonia-treated lean finely textured beef,” or LFTB. In layman’s, LFTB is unwanted bits of cow mixed with ammonia and sent through a centrifuge—just like mom used to make. This process was invented by Beef Product Inc to help get the most possible product out of cows. Then, they sell it for cheap, hence the reason school districts bought it in the first place—to save money.
A team of cardiologists at the University of Michigan has found that among obese middle schoolers, 62 percent watched two or more hours of TV a day. The data suggests that when “screen time” replaces physical activity, obesity is likely to ensue. When you pair this decreased activity with the calorie-rich, fat-laden lunches served in schools, you have a full on epidemic.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2024 was meant to provide healthier food for the national school lunch program, which took effect last year. It’s certainly a step in the right direction, but still far from perfect. As for the other side of the coin, it’s ultimately up to parents to tackle the TV problem. The life-long effects of poor dietary and activity habits can lead obesity, heart disease, and other chronic diseases.
Our resident nutrition expert, Mary Hartley, RD, has been an ardent supporter of the school lunch overhaul, and told us that for many kids, half of a child’s calorie intake comes from school lunch, and those calories were 34 percent fat.
“French fries and other potato products accounted for a disproportionate number of the vegetables on kids’ trays,” she said. “But improving school lunches is only one part of the obesity problem. Parents at home have a far greater impact.”
Students are going back to a healthier school environment this year, as schools continue to advance Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2024. Last year, USDA added more fruit, vegetables and whole grains to the school lunch program. This year, those healthy advancements extend to school vending machines and school stores. Expect to see more of the foods we should encourage – whole grains, low fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and leaner protein – and less of the foods we should avoid – sugary, salty and fatty items. Read the guidelines in Smart Snacks in School, the USDA’s guide to the new nutrition standards.
Download this Printer Friendly Version for your home or classroom.
We took those guidelines one step further by translating them into brand name foods to help busy parents and even teachers know what to look for at the store. Our list contains only foods that meet the new standards. There are no cookies or soda (too much sugar), nor meat jerky (too much salt), and several snack bars didn’t make the cut because they exceed the 200-calorie limit. While our list doesn’t include every acceptable packaged food on the market – and let’s make it clear, we love snacks made at home from healthy, fresh ingredients – we hope our list will help school administrators, teachers and parents to identify better-for-you commercial snacks that are more apt to promote our kids’ healthy lifestyles. (more…)
By Rachel Berman RD, Director of Nutrition at CalorieCount.com
Last month, the USDA celebrated its one year anniversary of releasing MyPlate to replace the decades-old food guide pyramid in order to help Americans make healthier choices at mealtime. In case you haven’t seen it yet, MyPlate is a visual representation of what your plate should look like, sectioned off with 50% attributed for fruits and vegetables, 30% grains, 20% protein and a smaller circle next to the plate representing dairy. But is the government implementing this nutrition guide focusing on balance when it comes to the National School lunch program? With more than one-third of the nation’s children and adolescents being obese and students taking in about 20-50% of their daily food at school during the school year, is the math adding up to more nutritious school lunches?
This year, the USDA is requiring a revamp of school lunches due to first lady Michelle Obama’s initiative and as a component of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act signed by the president. Beginning July 1, 2024, new school lunch and general nutrition standards started rolling out and will continue for the next five years. The main changes, which are in line with MyPlate recommendations, include ensuring:
- Kids are offered fruits and veggies every day
- Offered more whole grains
- Only low fat or fat free milk
- Monitored calorie counts based on age to limit portions (more…)
If you’re plugged into the health world at all, or apparently if you work for the USDA, then you’ve likely heard the term ‘Meatless Monday‘ floating around at one point or another. The term, or movement, rather, is an initiative on behalf of the nonprofit organization Monday Campaign Inc., and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, to encourage people to embrace the idea of a meat-free diet on Mondays for health and environmental reasons, among others.
According to the website, “Going meatless once a week, may reduce your risk of chronic preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. It can also help reduce your carbon footprint and save precious resources like fresh water and fossil fuel.”
Initially, the USDA was all in favor of meat-free Mondays and even promoted the idea in a recent interoffice newsletter saying: “One simple way to reduce your environmental impact while dining at our cafeterias is to participate in the Meatless Mondays initiative,” citing the reasons of health and environmental impact as encouragement to join the cause. (more…)
For those who think Twinkles and Pop Tarts are the cheaper way to go when it comes to a budget-friendly diet, think again. A new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that eating a diet consisting of healthier foods doesn’t necessarily cost more than one made up of mostly unhealthy foods.
Reason for the study was motivated in part by the perception that diets that align with the USDA dietary guidelines are not affordable; and that eating a diet higher in fat, sugar and processed foods is less expensive.
The study was led by a group of economists at the USDA, one of which was Andrea Carlson who helped analyze the cost of more than 4,400 foods. In their research, she and her colleagues considered each item by price per calories, price by edible gram, and price per average portion. (more…)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has confirmed a case of Mad Cow disease in a dairy cow in Fresno, California. The dead animal tested positive for the disease and experts are now completing an investigation to ensure no other cows have been infected. Thus far, no sign of the disease has been detected in the cow feed, which is a positive sign.
Mad Cow, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE – is a fatal disintegration of the brain and nervous system. Although it’s most commonly found in cows, it can also infect humans if they ingest the meat of a cow with the disease.
One such instance occurred in the U.K. close to 30 years ago, when nearly 200 hundred people were infected with the disease after an outbreak. One extreme case left one man blind, deaf and immobile from 2001 until his death in 2024.
More than 4.4 million cows were slaughtered in the 1980s to control this outbreak after close to 180,000 cows were found to have the disease.
Would you like any pink slime in your hamburger, sir? I wouldn’t think so.
But the U.S. Department of Agriculture is allowing this suspicious substance into the packaged ground beef being served in school lunches across America, according to a recent article from The Daily.
Two former microbiologists for the Food Safety Inspection Service, Carl Custer and Gerald Zirnstein, believe they have reason to be concerned about this “pink slime.” Zirnstein discovered the pink matter in 2002 while touring a Beef Products Inc. production facility as part of a ground beef salmonella investigation.
So what is exactly is the stuff? BPI’s ‘Lean Beef Trimmings’ reportedly consist of connective tissue and beef scraps that are normally produced for dog food and rendering and are treated with ammonia hydroxide to kill pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli. (more…)
March marks the start of nutrition labels for raw meat and poultry. The new USDA rule states that nutrition information must be made available for most ground meat and ground poultry and for popular cuts of the two.
Previously, the USDA only required nutrition labels on meat that had added ingredients like stuffing or a marinade sauce. Now, all ground meat and poultry must carry a label. Along with ground meat 40 popular cuts will also be required to post a label either on the product or on a nearby chart. Some of those cuts include beef porterhouse steaks, chicken breasts, and pork chops.
The labels will provide the calorie and fat content of the meat. If the product shows a percentage of lean meat, it must also include the percentage of fat.
The labels do not have to include amount of trans fat though. This is not a requirement as the USDA estimated that nearly 80 percent of all nutrition labels list trans fat voluntarily.
There is an exception to the new labeling rule. Small meat grinding businesses are exempt. As long as the business provides lean and fat content information and makes no other nutrition claims on the package, they do not have to provide the other content in a label.
A four year old student in North Carolina was not allowed to eat the lunch her mother packed for her. Apparently her lunch was taken away from her because school officials claimed it was not healthy enough to eat based off of the USDA guidelines.
The young child brought a home-packed lunch to school containing a turkey sandwich, banana, potato chips, and an apple juice. A lunch inspector told the child she wasn’t allowed to eat it and provided her with a USDA-approved lunch. The approved lunches meet the USDA guidelines that require one serving of meat, one serving of grains, and two servings of fruit or vegetables. The uneaten lunch was returned home with the child. Inside, the girl’s mother found a note explaining that the lunch didn’t meet guidelines and a bill for $1.25, the cost of the school lunch.
The child’s mother took action. She anonymously wrote her local paper and called a state representative. The North Carolina rep contacted the school regarding the issue and the school issued an apology. The child’s lunch was deemed acceptable after a second review.
As I sat around the dinner table with my family recently, my son went into great detail about this food he had at school. He couldn’t remember the name, but he said it was kind of like a raw potato and also similar to an apple. He explained how they were given fresh lime to squeeze on it as a flavor enhancer. Totally perplexed, I got up to get the calendar from school to learn he had been sampling jicama. Jicama is just one of the many fruits and vegetables he and his peers are eating as part of the USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.
The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) began through the Farm and Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002. The purpose was to determine the best ways to get more fruit and vegetables consumed in the schools. The program was authorized as a pilot in only 4 states, but the popularity of the program added new states almost every year and today all 50 states are participating. The FFVP is provided to select schools through grants administered through the State Departments of Education. My son’s school, College Hill Elementary in Wichita, KS was fortunate enough to receive the grant this year. They have been seeing fantastic results.
It’s no secret that a strong battle is being fought in order to increase the quality of our school lunches and to teach our children what healthy eating looks like. As the elementary students at College Hill have been introduced to these fruits and vegetables, good results have been shown.
“I think most of the staff has been pleasantly surprised at how willingly the kids have at least tasted everything. I’m sure that we are giving quite a few of these kids an experience with some types of foods that they would never have in their lifetime,” said Karla Stenzel, physical education teacher and the facilitator of the FFVP.