Schools and Whole Grains
"Feeding a child is a profound act. The foods we invite into our children's bodies determine how their organs will develop and function the rest of their lives."
Dr. Alan Greene
Kids' growing bodies especially need the benefits of healthy whole grains. The foods kids learn to eat at school will help them make healthier choices outside of the school building. The Whole Grains Council supports increased consumption of whole grains in schools worldwide, and provides resources and information to both schools and manufacturers to make this a reality.
One good place to start is with the section of this website called “Whole Grains 101” which defines whole grains, describes their health benefits, and gets you up to speed on whole grain vocabulary.
Once you’ve got the basics, we’re here to help you...
Access handouts and educational materials
Cast your eyes to the menu at the left, and check out our PDFs of educational materials, and a great set of lesson plans for upper elementary kids.
Links to important government documents
Whether you're a school trying to bring more good whole grains to your kids, or a manufacturer trying to make the right whole grain products for schools, here's the information you need, to understand current and (likely) future federal requirements for whole grains in schools.
1) January 2012 New USA School Food Regulations published
In late January 2012, USDA published new nutrition guidelines for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the school breakfast program. These new rules require that at least half of all grain foods be "whole grain rich" starting with the 2012-2013 school year, and that two years later, ALL grain foods be "whole grain rich." Download Final Rule for schools.
2) Clarification of Final Guidelines for 2012-2013 and onward
On April 30, 2012, USDA released a memo that clarified most remaining questions about how the new requirement for "whole grain-rich" foods would be implemented. Download Memo SP 30-2012 from USDA / FNS and read our blog written the same day.
3) USDA's Food Buying Guide for Child Nutrition Programs: Grains/Breads
This guide explains what constitutes a grain/bread serving in the school lunch program and other child feeding programs through the end of the 2011-2012 school year. During this period, although whole grains were encouraged, they were not yet required on the federal level. Download the Buying Guide Section 3: Grains/Breads now (364K PDF)
Note this FBG does NOT include information to support the new 2012 school food rules. We will post the new Food Buying Guide section on Grains as soon as it is available, which may not be until Winter 2013, according to FNS. In the meantime, pretty much everything you would need to know is in the clarification memo above (#2).
4) IOM Report: School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children (October 20, 2009)
Consider this a sneak preview of probable changes in school lunch requirements that will be implemented in the next few years. You can purchase or read the full report online. There's a lot to it, but if you want to zero right in on the whole grains sections, we recommend you see:
Chapter 7, p. 122: chart showing recommended servings of food groups for menu planning
Chapter 7, p. 124: Box 7-1 explains the "criterion for Whole Grain-Rich foods"
Chapter 7, p. 125-126: further explains how IOM arrived at the criterion
Chapter 10, p. 199-200: details IOM's Recommendation #6 that FDA should require labeling whole grains with grams and that the requirements should get more stringent as kids get more used to whole grains.
5) The HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC)
Schools can get a Bronze, Silver, Gold or Gold of Distinction award for making healthy changes in the foods they serve (including serving more whole grains) and the activities they promote. You can learn how this voluntary program works on the USDA website and then download the program's Whole Grain Resource (80K PDF), which explains just which foods qualify as whole grains for the HUSSC program. Until the awaited update of school requirements expected to follow in the wake of the IOM report, many schools are following the HUSSC guidelines for whole grains, whether they are participating in the HUSSC program or not.
Find great whole grain recipes, scaled for quantity cooking
Click here to download a PDF (128K PDF) including 22 foodservice recipes from some of our favorite foodservice providers and chefs.
The Healthy Meals Resource System at USDA also has a recipe finder that includes an online, searchable database of quantity recipes intended to help schools and child care centers find healthy ideas. Just put "whole grain" in the search box to see all the choices!
Share Your Experience with Other Schools
Schools just starting out with whole grains can benefit from the experience of their colleagues who have already begun traveling this road. The WGC wants to help, by being a central meeting place to share information.
Read Reports from the Trenches – where schoools share their successes and challenges in offering more whole grains.
Link to our Honor Roll of schools serving whole grains. Do you qualify, too?
Read about the Whole Grains Challenge – and how your school could enter and win. Scroll down the page to learn about our past winners.
- See results from our 2009 Schools Survey. (736K PDF)
Find Whole Grain Products and Ingredients
The last few years have seen an explosion of great whole grain products from bread and cereals to cookies, granola bars, crackers and so much more. Click on the lists below for inspiration. All products listed offer at least half a serving (8g) of whole grain.
Foodservice products. This growing list includes products sized for foodservice needs.
Stamped Products. Our enormous list of all retail products certified by the Whole Grains Council as containing half a MyPyramid serving or more of whole grain per labeled serving.
Understand US School Guidelines for Healthier Food
By US law (Pubic Law 101-445, Section 301), the Dietary Guidelines are to be "promoted by each Federal agency in carrying out any Federal food, nutrition, or health program." However, official USDA School Food Guidelines have not yet been updated to require whole grains. In early 2008, USDA asked the Institute of Medicine to prepare recommendations for new school rules, a process that takes two years. The IOM report was completed in 2009 (see above); now USDA is in the process of using the IOM recommendations to create new school lunch rules, expected sometime before 2012.
In the meantime, USDA is supporting the 2005 Dietary Guidelines message of "make half your grains whole," by actively promoting the message to "serve more whole grains for healthier school meals." You can download their April 2008 Fact Sheet on whole grains on the Team Nutrition website. The voluntary USDA Team Nutrition program also has lots of great nutrition resources for schools.
While the most important documents are listed above in "Links to Important Government Documents" you may also want to take a look at these two links:
Local Wellness Policies are now required at all schools. Communities can set higher standards, including whole grains.
IOM School Food Guidelines. These guidelines, released in April 2007, set clear guidelines that foods served in schools but outside of the school lunch program, should include fruits, vegetables and whole grains – but they did not clearly define what foods count as whole grains.
Compare Standards for Whole Grain Foods
Since there is no universal standard for whole grains in schools, you may want to review our chart comparing a number of existing standards (inside and outside the US) for "what is a whole grain." Keep in mind that some local school nutrition departments may have additional standards or definitions for whole grain.
Background information for the Media
Being a school foodservice manager is a demanding job under difficult conditions. We encourage journalists to write about the incredible job these professionals do as they work to serve healthy, appealing meals for almost no money.
Journalists: check out the background information below, and contact us if you’d like us to put you in touch with school foodservice managers you can interview, about their hardworking efforts to bring whole grains (and other healthy foods) to their kids.
- WGC 2009 Schools Survey results