“Bring on the pork” is the Pork Checkoff’s focus as new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requirements revamp the school lunch program.
“As USDA updates its nutrition standards for school meals, there have been concerns that meat is being cut out of the menu,” says Adria Sheil-Brown, a registered dietitian and manager of nutrition communications and research for the Pork Checkoff. “In reality, the amount of meat/meat alternate required as part of the new school lunch program is almost identical to previous requirements.”
The new guidelines, which seek to reduce the amount of trans fat, saturated fat and sodium in school lunches, draw on the latest nutrition science. The standards take into account the health risks facing children today, including the childhood obesity epidemic and related illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes.
“These changes provide more choices and flexibility for schools, including the availability of more fruits and vegetables,” says Sheil-Brown, who notes that school lunches provide about one-third of children’s nutrients per day.
To help ensure that pork provides a portion of these nutrients, the Pork Checkoff is taking a proactive approach to emphasize lean pork’s role in a healthy diet for children and teens.
“We’re working on nutrition research projects that support the importance of animal protein at breakfast with adolescents and assess its impact on satiety, weight management/weight loss and brain function,” Sheil-Brown says.
Save room for pork
Meat remains an option for both breakfast and lunch in the USDA’s new guidelines, which many schools have already implemented, even though the standards don’t go into effect until 2013.
Keeping meat on the menu is important, since research continues to show that fresh, lean pork products help people increase their intake of important nutrients while adding variety to their diet, according to current data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
It’s all about balance, Sheil-Brown notes. “The Pork Checkoff will continue to use research to demonstrate pork’s role in a healthy diet and within the school meal program.”