As the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposes improved nutrition standards for school meals, ConAgra Foods, Inc., (CAG 23.16, -0.01, -0.04%) one of North America's leading food makers, continues to focus on enhancing the nutritional value of its school foodservice products, such as The Max(R) pizza and pancakes, by increasing whole grains and fiber and decreasing fat and sodium while also maintaining the taste students love.
The proposed nutrition standards for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program call for incrementally increasing the amount of whole grains in meals, eventually requiring at least half of the grains offered to be whole grains. Currently, less than five percent of Americans consume the daily recommended minimum of about three, 1-ounce servings of whole grains(1) and most school-age children eat less than one serving a day(2).
"With 32 million children eating school meals each day, serving whole grain versions of favorite foods such as pizza, pancakes and pasta is a simple way to significantly increase whole grain consumption," said Elizabeth Arndt, Ph.D., director of Research and Development, ConAgra Foods. "For instance, one slice of The Max whole grain pizza already meets the proposed USDA standards for whole grains by delivering a full serving of whole grains in a 51 percent whole grain crust, potentially doubling the current daily whole grain intake for children."
Of course, children aren't likely to value nutrition over taste so acceptability can be an issue. The Institute of Medicine's report, School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children, recognizes that school menus based on nutrition science alone don't necessarily appeal to students nor are the menu selections always realistic or economical.
"Pizza is the most popular entree item served at school lunch(3) so it's the ideal food to increase children's whole grain consumption in a way that's familiar and readily accepted," said Chris Meinerding, director of Marketing for ConAgra Foodservice and incoming board member for the School Nutrition Association.
In 2005, ConAgra Foods became the first major food company to offer whole grain pizza for schools with the introduction of The Max pizza made with 51 percent whole grain Ultragrain(R) flour. ConAgra Foods has seen rising demand for whole grain pizza and currently has more than 30 whole grain pizza and handheld items and two varieties of whole grain pancakes available at schools across the country. These foods all carry the Whole Grain Council's Whole Grain Stamp and deliver between three and five grams of fiber per serving, added protein, and less sodium and fat.
Another proven way to incorporate whole grains into school menus is with ConAgra Foods' 51 percent whole wheat Ultragrain Pasta(TM). Introduced last September, the Ultragrain Pasta line includes penne, macaroni, rotini, orzo, lasagne and spaghetti. The mild flavor, smooth texture and lighter color make it easy to incorporate the benefits of whole grains into a variety of recipes. Ultragrain is ConAgra Foods' revolutionary whole wheat flour with the taste, texture and appearance of white flour.
ConAgra Foods, Inc., (CAG 23.16, -0.01, -0.04%) , is one of North America's leading food companies, with brands in 97 percent of America's households. Consumers find Banquet, Chef Boyardee, Egg Beaters, Hebrew National, Hunt's, Marie Callender's, Orville Redenbacher's, PAM, Peter Pan, Reddi-wip, Slim Jim, Snack Pack and many other ConAgra Foods brands in grocery, convenience, mass merchandise and club stores. ConAgra Foods also has a strong business-to-business presence, supplying frozen potato and sweet potato products as well as other vegetable, spice and grain products to a variety of well-known restaurants, foodservice operators and commercial customers. For more information, please visit us at www.conagrafoods.com.
(1) United States Department of Agriculture, 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
(2) Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Feb. 2010.
(3) School Nutrition Association Back to School Trends report, 2008.