Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Making the Case for School Food Transparency

My printer is tired.

I am prepping for Friday's #schoolfood brainstorming meeting with Preferred Meals and District 76. 

Please leave comments below if you have any concerns or ideas you would like me to bring along to the meeting! 

In addition to driving positive change, I hope this evolving story is a source of inspiration and hope for other parents, grandparents, teachers, administrators and any individuals who are interested in improving school food education and school food transparency. Our teachers and schools need our help in reaching our kids. I'm sick of hearing that it's the teacher or the school district's fault. I have a family FULL of teachers, not to mention a bus full of teacher friends. It's getting harder and harder to teach and reach students (for a variety of reasons... But I'm just sticking to food ed here). In our case with Abbie, it was not the teachers. It was her food. Instruction was not meeting her "needs" because of the food was not meeting her needs. I just didn't know. Once I cleaned it up for Abbie, her brain opened up. This mind blowing experience is what drives my passion. I am not keeping this information to myself. There are other kids out there whose brains could use a roto rooter too. 

This is not about food control, food judgment or food snobbery. This is about food transparency, food education, freedom of choice and the power of the consumer. Schools are the biggest restaurants in town and I think it's time we took a closer look at the ingredient lists to see if they are serving our children for increased academic success, not the other way around.

Let this article bring you up to speed: Connecting Attention and Nutrition

Food transparency = a win win for all: The kids win. The schools win. The companies win. 

Well, that is for the companies who change with the tides.

Food companies who are meeting the demands for cleaner, more organic food are being rewarded and those who are keeping up with the "status quo" of chemical companies who are being left in the dust.

Read about the food companies who keep the chemicals + fake food = real BIG profit losses (Robyn O'Brien)

I hope to discuss the following on Friday:

1. Fake food vs real food ingredients: D76 Preferred Meal Systems - Can we improve the quality of breakfast and lunch offerings within budget to increase sales?
2. Food transparency: Can the District provide full online ingredient list access to parents before June?
3. Can the "Allergy Systems Menu" be offered to all D76 families? At extra cost? How can we make this option accessible to all with or without a doctor's note.

4. When will added sugar amounts be provided to the D76? Is D76 responsible for calculating added sugar? How & when can we get this vital food education information on sugar to our parents and staff? We do have some more eating to do after school and most of us like to eat dessert from time to time.

The amount of added sugar is especially alarming in our school breakfasts. According to my quick math (on an OLD menu, albeit same items) PM breakfasts range from 27g of added sugar up to 46g of sugar. According to the Fed Up Challenge Sugar Facts, 4g of sugar = 1 tsp. The American Heart association recommends that children should not exceed 5-8 tsp's in a DAY (20-32g per day). So, we're already at a minimum of 6.5 tsp's of added sugar BEFORE they even have a snack or lunch at school. Got chocolate milk? That'll put you over the limit in one 8 oz box. What's a Mom and Dad to do at home!? That is one tough, restrictive menu to be handed in my kitchen.

Here is what I have come across in my search for information. More than you need I am sure, but the following is what District 148 offered online in 2011. This simple PDF format will be something I suggest our District can offer families from our District website. (It sounds like PMs website is still "under construction" for full ingredient food transparency.) In the meantime, let's take some pictures and upload them for anyone who would like to look into the school food ingredients.

District 148 - 2011 Preferred Meals spec sheet 1

District 148 - 2011 Preferred Meals Condiments

District 148 - 2011 Preferred Meals spec sheet fruit and veggies

Partially hydrogenated oil + high fructose corn syrup much? WOW - Major MEGA props to PM as these 2011 menu items have been reformulated and updated to meet the growing demand of parents and school districts for cleaner, more organic and local school food. 

Here is the most updated information I could find to access current PMs menus in our country. It took A LOT of searching. Nobody is granting much access to school food ingredient lists in America:

To find this, first you must cut and paste the following into a google search (it won't let me link it for you):

"preferred meals systems product specification sheet 2014"

Next, the following should come up 3rd in your list. Click to download:

"Elementary and Comm Ed Labels. pdf"

(July 14, 2014)

So what do our menus look like now? I don't know. I still haven't gotten my hands on anything and there is NOTHING current online. So crazy. I have requested that D76 provide me the ingredient lists on Friday. I am looking forward to bringing home a "packet."

I'm most concerned with PM's claim that artificial flavors and MSG have been taken out of the menu. An ingredient does not have to be labeled with "Monosodium Glutamate" (MSG) for it to be in the product. Check out this link for MSG's "spy names"Unfortunately, companies are still able to get away with MSG in products under different names. There are still a shocking amount of MSG "spy names" listed and I'll bring these to everyone's attention on Friday. I'm so happy to see the menu's progress over the past 5 years AND I think there is still room for some progress. Baby steps. High fives. And we can do better. As I do not have our D76 - 2015 menus in hand just yet, I am going to have to wait before I assume anything.

I am fighting for cleaner, less sugar laden, more nutrient dense school food for ALL of our students so that they can perform at their highest potential in the classroom. This should be our highest priority, our shared responsibility in our District's quest to support our families and teachers, to inspire higher learning and to raise our District's academic performance. 

Below is a comment I received from PM on my recent blot post. I am so excited to hear back from them and I'm thrilled to get the opportunity to sit and brainstorm alongside them and the District. 

I am so impressed by the menu changes I can see between 2011 and 2014 and they should be applauded!!!

I'm not sure who should be responsible for providing me with ingredient information and added sugar content (the vendors are not "required" to give that to PM? WHAT!?), but somebody better.figure.it.out. It sounds like the District has had this information all along, which is highly aggravating as I/we asked for this information in several past Wellness Committee meetings. We were told that they would get the information from PM.  Shame on me for being complacent.

"Who's on first?"


Hello Lindsey,

Thank you for reaching out to us on your blog! We love and share your passion in providing healthy foods to kids. Our menu website is relatively new and we are still working on a way to tie in ingredients with specific products. Our menu system calculates nutrients as part of the planning process but ingredients are not part of the database yet. 

As for the nutrients that show, we do not include sugar because our vendors are not required to provide that information to us. Since some do provide it and some don’t, our calculation is inconsistent and we wouldn’t want to pass along incomplete information.

We do want parents to be able to view ingredients if desired and we provide updated product spec sheets to the district on a regular basis. Also, each case of product delivered to the schools is labeled with all ingredients. I’m sure if you visit the school they will be able to provide that information to you.

You will be pleased to know that we have eliminated from our products many of the ingredients that are likely a concern to you, such as MSG, artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and fats, bleached flour, high fructose corn syrup, palm/coconut and partially hydrogenated oils and more. In addition, by regulation, our menus are calorie, fat and sodium controlled by age group and contain 0 grams of trans fat. Since our menus are calorie controlled, we don’t add extra sugar and fat and always choose low fat, lean meats and cheese. Items are baked and not fried, all breads/ breadings /crusts are whole grain, juices / fruit cups have no added sugar or syrup and juice is always 100% juice.

Did you know school meals are very highly regulated? Check out the USDA’s website for more information: http://www.fns.usda.gov/…/national-school-lunch-program-nslp

As for our Allergy Meal System, this is available to the district as an option and should be discussed with the school. Offering an alternate meal may require additional planning and preparation for school staff, resulting in higher cost and additional labor, so making this available to all students would be a district decision.

A representative from Preferred Meals is always available to attend a meeting with the district if you would like to discuss further.

Thank you!


BIG thanks in advance to all the individuals who weigh in at the comments section below. Regardless of your school district, your voices COUNT and together, we can make change... 

One school district at a time!

Fighting for food transparency + food ed,

Stay tuned,

JOFR Super Ambassador


Check out this fake food ingredient I just discovered from the lists: Cinnamaldehyde. Instead of adding real cinnamon, they add this "pesticide" to give applesauce and other foods a cinnamon essence. GROSS.

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