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Changes anticipated for school meals

Rice is favorably positioned with USDA guidelines.

By Judy Rusignuolo
Director, Consumer
Education & Foodservice Marketing
USA Rice Federation
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The “Let’s Move” White House campaign to combat childhood obesity has elevated the discussion about the importance of child nutrition to a national movement. The USDA recently published a proposed rule that would make sweeping changes in nutrition standards for $9.8 billion in federally funded school meals served to 32 million students each day.

The new rule would require an increased number of whole grain servings and eventually require most grains to be whole, presenting an opportunity to boost sales of brown rice. For the past five years, the popularity of whole grains has been the driving force behind a 20 percent increase in USDA commodity buys of brown rice in addition to direct school purchases.

School breakfasts would also be re-quired to provide a grain daily. Rice fits well and is favorably positioned with the USDA’s proposed guidelines and has long been a school menu staple because of its versatility and affordability.

Enriched white and whole-grain brown rice are complex carbohydrates rich in vitamins and minerals, low in calories and sodium- and gluten-free with no cholesterol, saturated or trans fat. When combined with fresh vegetables, beans, lean meats and other wholesome foods, rice is an ideal foundation for healthy meals. Additionally, brown rice is an easy way for schools to boost the number of whole grain servings on menus.

USA Rice’s Work With Schools

USA Rice Federation works actively with school menu planners, providing recipes and incentives to increase rice offerings. One example planned for March is a joint promotion of whole grain brown rice recipes to 4,500 schools with Chart-wells Dining Services, the largest contract meal provider to schools.

Another popular promotion conducted by USA Rice is its “Healthy Rice Bowls Contest” for kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) school menu planners seeking creative ways to serve rice bowls in schools. This annual contest awards $500 to the winning school’s education fund and Aroma rice cookers to the contest winner and two runners up. All of the entrants are featured in MenuRice.com’s K-12 section.

This year’s winner is Cynthia Ruffin, director of child nutrition for St. Charles Parish Schools in southeastern Louisiana.

USA Rice Advocacy

USA Rice is a longtime educator and advocate for child nutrition. Its 30-year relationship with the School Nutrition Association, a prominent, national organization devoted to the health and nutrition of our students, offers USA Rice a direct connection to decision makers in schools across the country.

As USDA encourages schools nationwide to incorporate healthier food options in school lunches, USA Rice continues to work closely with school meal planners to position rice as a sensible, nutritious, versatile and flavorful grain that fits well with the goal of improving child nutrition through healthy meals at school.

To learn more, visit www.usarice.com.

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