Things were cookin’ in Nashville last month, and not just the July weather in this vibrant southern city. At the historic Opryland Hotel, we joined our partners at the School Nutrition Association’s annual convention to show how USDA Foods are increasingly vital to the health of our nation’s schoolchildren.
The culinary demo was led by local chef and Nashville public school dad David Owens, who wowed convention attendees and members of the media with baked chicken in fruit sauce, vegetarian chili, and vegetable rice. But the exhibition was about more than creating great tasting meals. Along with Nashville Education and Training Coordinator Deborah Walker, Chef Owens emphasized practicing safe and healthy preparation, choosing reasonably priced options, and integrating ingredients relevant and appealing to the modern school nutrition program.
USDA Foods, in fact, make up about 15 to 20 percent of the food served in each school lunch. This includes a selection of more than 180 nutritious food items, all that meet rigorous food safety standards set by Federal agencies and USDA’s two purchasing agencies- the Agricultural Marketing Service and the Farm Service Agency.
Nearly 32 million kids participate in the National School Lunch Program. And for many, the food they receive while in school is their primary source of nutrition. With that in mind, schools are choosing to use USDA Foods in more healthful ways – by eliminating fried foods and opting to convert USDA Foods into lower fat, lower sodium menu items that remain appealing to their often finicky customers.
So later this summer when the weather starts to simmer and our nation’s kids head back to school, one thing will be clear: USDA will provide nutritious meals to ensure our children are engaged and productive learners.