The PJ Tatler

USDA Gives Short Reprieve to Schools That Can Prove Whole-Grain Pasta Falls Apart

Schools that are having trouble finding economical whole-grain pastas will get a short reprieve from the cafeteria police at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA announced “new flexibility for school districts working to meet updated whole grain requirements for school meals.”

“During the current school year, USDA received feedback from schools that the whole grain rich products currently on the market did not hold together when produced in large quantities for school cafeterias,” the agency said. “Based on this input, schools that demonstrate significant challenges in serving whole-grain rich pastas can now continue serving traditional enriched pasta products for up to two more years, as industry works to develop healthy pasta that works for schools.”

“Schools raised legitimate concerns that acceptable whole-grain rich pasta products were not available. We worked to find a solution which will allow more time for industry to develop products that will work for schools,” said Agriculture Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon in a statement. “We continue to listen and work closely with schools and parents to implement common sense nutritional guidance that supports a healthier next generation. But, with one third of American children fighting obesity, we cannot accept politically motivated efforts to undermine standards and deny kids healthier options.”

That wasn’t just a stab at Republicans, as Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) had raised concerns with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that “schools in Michigan and throughout the country are still struggling to serve some whole grain items like pasta.”

“Like the modification to meat and grain maximums, the change to whole grains shows that we can work together to address these issues when they arise without rolling back important steps we have taken to improve the foods kids eat throughout the school day,” Stabenow said today.

Beginning next school year, all grains and breads in school meal programs must be “whole grain-rich,” meaning that they contain at least 50 percent whole grain meal and/or flour.

The USDA said school districts complained that the whole-grain noodles “degraded easily during preparation” in large-scale kitchen operations.

“Whole grain-rich pastas made from blends of whole grain and enriched flours maintain better consistency, but these products are still emerging in the marketplace. Therefore, USDA recognizes that USDA Foods and industry may need additional time to develop a range of acceptable whole grain-rich pastas. As such, USDA is offering flexibility in this area for those districts serving menu items with whole grain-rich pastas that do not hold together well,” the USDA said.

“School districts that wish to take advantage of this two-year flexibility must obtain approval from their state agency by demonstrating that they experienced significant challenges in preparing and serving whole grain-rich pasta products in their schools. This is a temporary flexibility intended to provide additional time for the development of acceptable whole grain products that meet USDA’s science-based standards.”