The Good Food Institute recently submitted a comment in response to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service’s Request for Information about its Child Nutrition Programs, which include the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and Summer Food Service Program.
FNS sent this request to get feedback to update and improve their crediting system, which allows certain foods to be part of these programs. At present, schools and other care facilities do not have the flexibility to offer several healthy and diverse sources of protein, such as tempeh, seitan, and pea-based milks. At GFI, we think that both students and schools would benefit from having more plant-based options available to them.
GFI’s comment – authored by Business Analyst Brianna Cameron, MPH, Director of Policy Jessica Almy, JD, and Legal Fellow Charlie Palladino, JD – argues for crediting tempeh, seitan, and soy- and pea-based milks for use in the Child Nutrition Programs. Their case, spelled out in detail here (including nutritional comparisons), includes the following points:
- Plant-based foods are a healthy and popular option for omnivores and vegetarians alike
- More than 10% of consumers eat tempeh and seitan at least once a week
- Plant-based milks comprise nearly 10% of the fluid milk market
- The Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage incorporation of plant-based foods
- Schools should provide healthy plant-based options for school children on vegetarian diets, including students that adhere to this diet or religious purposes
- Certain racial and ethnic groups are more likely to avoid (or become ill from) cow’s milk
Also, in 2016, the USDA allowed crediting of tofu and soy yogurt. Regarding tofu, the USDA stated: “The ability to offer tofu as a meat alternate allows meal providers in the School Meal Programs and [Child and Adult Care Food Program] to further diversify their menus and better meet the dietary needs of vegetarians and culturally diverse groups.” GFI’s comment builds directly on the USDA’s reasoning on tofu and soy yogurt, noting that crediting tempeh, seitan, and soy- and pea-based milks will also allow schools to further diversify their menus and better meet the dietary needs of vegetarians and culturally diverse groups.
The GFI authors recommend:
“For these reasons, the programs should credit healthy plant-based foods, such as tempeh, seitan, and soy- and pea-based milks, which can contribute to the programs’ critical role ‘in ensuring that America's children have access to the nutritious food they need to learn and succeed in the classroom, after school, and during the summer’ and accommodate the dietary and cultural preferences of vegetarians, flexitarians, and people who grew up eating these foods.”
Furthermore, they said that the USDA should not limit the Child Nutrition Programs only to foods with standards of identity – which usually specify ingredient composition – because the standards have been unable to keep up with the increasing diversity of the food supply. The USDA has already taken a step in this direction by crediting tofu, which doesn’t have a standard of identity.
This is all part of The Good Food Institute’s mission is to increase access to healthy and sustainable plant-based foods.