What Can Cafeterias Learn From Chipotle?

Over the last several months, the food service world has been rocked by revelations about the unsafe food practices that caused multiple outbreaks of food-borne illness, all originating from Chipotle. Between 1990 and 2004, over 11,000 cases of food-borne illness resulted from school cafeterias; the numbers resulting from restaurants are less clear. What we do know, however, is that when people get sick from food that they’re served, the consequences can be dire. So how should the industry react? What can be done?

Maintain the Best in Food Handling Protocols

How does your kitchen handle raw meat? Vegetable washing? Do people in the kitchen regularly wash their hands and use appropriate precautions? Are foods thawed responsibly and kept in safe temperature zones?

One of the keys to maintaining a healthy and safe kitchen is knowing both what needs to be done, and who is accountable for doing it.

Encourage Both Health Inspections and Self Inspections for Food Safety

Sometimes those in the food service industry look on health inspections or self reviews regarding food safety either with irritation, or total fear. Instead, train your staff to look at inspections and reviews as an opportunity to do better. As the Chipotle situation shows, we can believe that we’ve got everything under control when there is in fact a great deal of room for improvement.

Know Your Pathogens

Your kitchen probably has first aid instructions for cuts and burns posted, right? What about the three foods most likely to cause food-borne illness? Poultry, leafy greens, and melons are all foods which have a higher than average chance of causing illness, through improper washing, improper freezing or thawing, or improper cooking. By training your staff to handle these foods with extra care, you can go a long way towards keeping your customers healthy and avoiding food-borne illness.

It’s important not to be scared about food safety. Just like handling sharp knives and kitchen tools, fear makes you more likely to mishandle things and hurt yourself or others. Ultimately, the instructions that need to be followed to keep everyone safe are fairly simple to implement. Making sure freezers stay at the right temperatures, that foods are used within appropriate time frames, and that cross-contamination is avoided will go a long way. A great inventory system helps you to keep track of what’s in your kitchen, and good food safety protocols help to make sure your food is delicious.

National School Breakfast Week: March 7-11, 2016

Breakfast is widely known as the most important meal of the day, and National School Breakfast Week is here to encourage kids to enjoy breakfast every day! The week long celebration of breakfast began in 1989. This year’s theme is “Wake up to School Breakfast.” This week, schools across the country are putting their breakfast programs on display to show students and their families that school lunches are for everyone, because they are both healthy and affordable.

There are tons of ways to get your students – and their families – excited about school breakfasts. Have you planned a celebration for this week? Letting teachers and students know that National School Breakfast Week 2016 has arrived is the first step.

Breakfast Facts for National School Breakfast Week

Teachers can remind students of a few important breakfast related facts! They may have heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but do they understand why?

Eating A Healthy Breakfast Increases Attention & Memory

Students who eat breakfast daily have been proven to have better memory and a longer attention span than those who don’t. In addition, the quality of the food has been shown to affect cognition, according to The Wellness Impact Report, 2013. The research showed that students who eat breakfast that lacks nutritional value are more likely to miss school, show signs of hunger before lunch, and have psycho social issues in school.

Healthy Breakfasts Boost Performance in School

A second study called Ending Childhood Hunger: A Social Impact Analysis, 2013, showed that eating school breakfast has an effect on a student’s performance. In the study, students who ate school breakfast attended 1.5 more days of school each year, on average, than those who did not. Eating school breakfasts also led to higher standardized math test scores.

Breakfast Makes a Better Overall Student

Schools function the best when all students arrive on time, every day, pay attention, and are able to understand the material. Of course, this is not the case in any school, but according to Breakfast for Learning, 2014, students who ate school breakfast showed improvement in all areas.

Students who participated in school breakfast programs had better attendance records, lower rates of tardiness, fewer behavior issues, and they earned higher test scores on standardized tests.

School Breakfast Is for Everyone

One of the benefits of school breakfast programs is that they are there for every student, and often, low-income students can receive free or discounted meals. That means that even if there is no food at home, a student can still reap all of the benefits of a healthy breakfast, every day.

According to the Impact of School Breakfast on Children’s Health & Learning, 2008, a school’s breakfast program can make a significant difference in the life of a child, especially a low-income child. Because a healthy breakfast helps increase memory and attention span, it helps to improve the learning capabilities and cognitive abilities of children. When comparing low-income children who eat school breakfast and those who do not, those who had breakfast had better attendance, higher energy levels, were more alert in school, had better memories, and scored higher on things like math and reading.

School Breakfasts Over Breakfast at Home

Often, eating breakfast at school instead of at home can help students show up to school and be there on time for several reasons. First, they have fewer things to do at home, so they can get ready faster. Second, if a child is hungry and knows that the school provides a healthy meal, they are motivated to work with a parent to get there. Taking time to eat together before school starts can help students bond with one another and have some time to wake up and get ready for the day.

Free School Meals – Ensuring that All Children Are Able to Learn

Good nutrition is at the heart of learning. Studies show that, not only do students need a good breakfast and lunch for health reasons, but they also perform better on important standardized tests and assignments when they have a healthy meal. In contrast, brain functions slow down and are impeded by improper nutrition, junk food and poor food choices. So parents often turn to schools to offer the nutrition their child needs to excel.

The Problem with Lunch Programs of the Past

Free lunches and reduced-priced meals have been available to kids in public schools for some time. The problem was that only a select group of kids actually qualified for the free lunches. Many parents are low-income but fall just above the cut-off for such programs, yet still have struggles paying the amount charged by schools for daily lunches. For parents with multiple children in school, this can become a daily expense that they cannot afford.

Is Free Breakfast Enough?

Some schools have begun implementing free breakfast programs, in an effort to increase the involvement level of parents to get their kids started right in the morning. However, offering free breakfast is not enough. Many kids need free lunches as well, but their parents often do not know that they qualify, or they are not educated on what to do to get this going for their child.

Community-based Free Lunches

President Obama’s new free lunch program is out to change that. The legislation relies on the criteria of “community eligibility,” rather than individual need. Based on the general needs of the community in which the children live and attend school, free lunches are offered to low-income children.

This federal provision was made available as of the 2014-15 school year. It is now available for low-income communities with children who attend school but cannot afford lunch at the regular prices. It offers children 2 meals per school day: breakfast and lunch, which increases the chances of success in learning even more.

What to Do to Take Advantage of the New Program

Parents of communities need only to contact their local school districts to see if their area qualifies. Regarding school lunches, specific requirements are now much easier to reach than in previous legislative actions. The President’s new ruling opens the doors to many who had gone without proper nutrition in the past and makes it easier than ever to get nutrition to kids who need it the most.

What Does the Government’s New Dietary Advice for Americans Mean for School Lunches?

Every five years, the U.S. government revises its dietary guidelines. Each update should reflect new developments in nutrition and science, and the guidelines are meant to help all Americans stay healthy – including schoolchildren.

The newest guidelines were released on January 7, 2016, and there are some notable differences from the old guidelines. The new guidelines place a limit on daily sugar intake – it should make up no more than 10 percent of daily calories. Currently, many Americans eat over 20 teaspoons of sugar in a day, which is almost twice what the new guidelines recommend for the average diet.

Because the guidelines tend to dictate what students are served at school, there will need to be some major changes – which could take years. Many schools have resisted the change toward healthier meals in the past, partly because of the cost, and partly because they say students won’t eat healthier foods.

Why School Foods Are So Sugary

There are several reasons why the limit on sugar intake will be such a big change for school meals.

Many schools serve overly processed meals, from sugary cereals and bars to pancake lunches with syrup. Not only are processed meals more affordable than fresh foods, but they tend to last longer in storage because they’re full of preservatives.

Kids like the taste of sugar – and they’re more likely to eat (and purchase) more food if it’s delicious, cheap, and doesn’t have the fiber to make them feel full.

When schools face tight budgets, it can be hard to make the change to foods that tend to have less added sugar, like foods based on whole grains, vegetables, and fruit.

How Can Schools Enact Change?

In order to have healthy kids – who tend to do better in school – schools will need to make a change. It’s okay to start small.

Nearly half of sugars in the American diet come from beverages, from soda to juice. Simply offering things like regular milk or water instead of sugar filled drinks at school can cut a lot of sugar out of kids’ diets.

Prepackaged snacks or side dishes are another source of sugar, especially when they include sauces or dips. Offering whole fruits, like apples, bananas, pears, or oranges is a better option for kids.

Dairy can be another hidden source of sugar in school meals. Instead of flavored milk and sweetened yogurt, schools could limit students to regular milk and offer plain yogurt with fresh fruit.

Healthy School Lunches During The Holidays

Healthy School Lunches: The Key to a Lifetime of Good Eating Habits – Even During the Holidays!

Eating healthy is a skill like any other. Children need to be taught healthy eating the same way they are taught to do math or ride a bike. After daily practice, it may become a habit, but it’s necessary to continue teaching healthy eating every day.

Some schools are slowly moving towards offering healthier options to students, but hot lunch options are not kids’ only food choices in school. Parents also play an important role in students’ healthy eating decisions.

Does eating healthy in school make a difference in kids’ lives long term? What can they learn in school about healthy habits? How can we help them practice healthy eating over the holidays?

Teaching Healthy Eating in Schools

It is often said that giving a child food will feed them for one day, but teaching them to find and make their own food will feed them for a lifetime. With the growing health crisis in the United States, it is more important than ever to make sure that our children understand how to make healthy decisions and listen to their bodies so that they can continue to do so.

There are several things that children can learn in school about staying healthy.

Eat Slowly – When children are given adequate time to eat their lunches, they can eat slowly and are more likely to feel when their body is full. Rushing through a meal can lead to overeating followed by a lethargic afternoon. It is important to offer children enough time to eat lunch during the day.

Choose Healthy Options – Schools are beginning to offer healthier options to students, but it is also important to teach kids how to select the healthy options, like fruits and vegetables. Often, deciding what to eat when they aren’t hungry, or pre-ordering lunch at the beginning of the day is not only cost effective for schools, but it leads to healthier choices for kids. It also teaches kids that selecting your foods when you aren’t hungry can lead to healthier decisions.

Eat Fresh & Local – Schools that have gardens can teach kids not only how to grow and maintain their own fresh, local foods, but they can educate students about the effects of their actions on the environment, and the effects that fresh, local foods have on people when they eat.

Maintaining Healthy Choices During the Holidays – If students have established these habits in school, they are likely to remember them over the holidays. As a parent, you can encourage your child to do things like shop after a meal, or select healthy options for holiday meals.

Do Longer Lunch Periods Benefit Students?

The United States has been trying to figure out how to improve its education system for years. Academics are being redesigned, and movements are fighting for art, music, and gym classes, and even recess. But, what about lunch periods?

When lunch periods are mentioned in schools, the debate usually centers around the nutrition value of the food offered. However, the length of the lunch period can also have an effect on student health and academics.

Why are Lunch Periods Shortened?

There are many reasons why schools offer shorter lunch periods. Some school districts push for a shorter school day that still fits in all the required academic time, so lunch is the first thing to go. Sometimes, administrators fear giving kids any free time, thinking that they’re more likely to get into trouble and face disciplinary action. Some schools are just overwhelmed with kids, and don’t have the space to keep all students at lunch for a long period of time because they have to rotate.

How Can Longer Lunch Periods Benefit Students?

Healthier Meals – One of the top reasons for allowing students to have a longer lunch period is that they can have healthier meals.

  • Often, food preparation takes longer for healthier meals, so when the staff has more time to prepare, the students can have healthier options.
  • When students have more time to eat, they are likely to eat more. That means that even if the students start with dessert, they’ll have time to eat all of their foods – including the fruits and vegetables. This is especially important in low income schools, where students depend on school lunches for up to half of their daily food.

Time to Relax – Rushing to eat is an unhealthy practice, and neither is a completely structured day with no down time.

  • Rushing to eat doesn’t give students time to recognize things like signs of fullness, or the way that certain foods make them feel. Eating slowly allows kids to learn how to eat what is good for them, and when to stop.
  • Attention spans are dropping among students, and short lunch periods may be a part of the problem. Allowing students to have some down time to relax, socialize, and stop worrying about academics is critical to their ability to focus in the afternoon – just like it is with adults. Although adults may worry about students getting into trouble with free time, many students use lunch to socialize, catch up on homework or get extra help from teachers.

The Sugar Debate: FDA Says No More Than 50 Grams of Added Sugar Daily

The sugar debate has been going on for a while now: how much sugar is too much? The Food and Drug Administration  has issued their opinion: Americans should not consume more than 50 grams of sugar per day, assuming the average diet is around 2,000 calories. That means that up to 10 percent of calories can come from sugar in a healthy diet.

Currently, Americans consume around 14 percent of calories from sugar, so the change may not be excessive. Fifty grams, or the recommended maximum, is equal to around 12.5 teaspoons, or the amount of sugar in one 12 ounce can of Coca Cola.

Consuming excessive amounts of sugar has been shown to increase chances of certain illnesses, like Type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease. It can also lead to obesity, and it can affect things like energy levels and attention spans, especially when children are taught that eating a lot of sugar is okay early in life.

What Is Added Sugar?

The difference between naturally occurring sugar and added sugar can be stated simply; naturally occurring sugar is found in whole, unprocessed foods like milk, fruits, vegetables, and grains, and added sugar is put into processed foods when they are made, or processed.

The FDA has placed a limit on the amount of added sugar recommended for Americans, but currently, food labels don’t differentiate between naturally occurring sugar and added sugar. The FDA says that it would like to change labeling requirements so that the kinds of sugar can be easily differentiated, but the changes haven’t been instituted yet.

Hidden Sources of Sugar

Do you know how much sugar you’re consuming daily? A lot of sugar that Americans consume is hidden, sometimes in foods that are thought of as ‘healthy’, like fruit flavored yogurt.

Some of the most common sources of hidden sugars in the United States include the following.

  • Sweetened beverages, including soft drinks
  • Condiments, like ketchup, pasta sauce, and salad dressing
  • Snack foods
  • Fat-free and low-fat foods

Some of the most common places that added sugars hide are in artificial sweeteners, like sugar, honey, and high fructose corn syrup. Sugars can be listed in nutrition facts as one of around 30 different things, so changes to labeling requirements may help consumers to make better decisions.

Overall, it’s up to consumers to make healthy and informed decisions regarding their own diets. The best way to avoid added sugars is to eat more whole, unprocessed foods.

Food Presentation Can Lead to Healthier Selections in Cafeterias

There has been a push in the last several years for cafeterias to offer healthier food options. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, for example, passed new regulations in 2012 requiring more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in school cafeterias.

However, once the food is there, it’s up to patrons to make healthy choices when building a plate. A cafeteria can make a few simple changes to encourage these healthier choices.

How can things like rearranging food options, adding labels and information about options, and offering trays with small dishes make such a difference?

Know Your Patrons

First, it’s important to remember who will be going through the line in your cafeteria. In a middle school, children are likely to make decisions about food selection on their own.

Children and adults are drawn to different kinds of food and different displays, so encouraging healthy eating is different, depending on your patrons.

For example, a tactic used by grocery stores to encourage purchasing certain products is to place them at eye level. For children, this means that healthier options should be near the lower shelves, while adults are more likely to notice them on the middle shelves.

Children are also more likely to react to more colorful foods, and those that are well designed. For example, placing a sample dish with healthy, colorful options, and making a face on the plate might encourage children to mimic the display.

Adults, on the other hand, are less likely to be influenced by the way the food is designed, and prefer fewer foods and colors on their plates. However, making healthy food attractive and easy to see will encourage adults to select these items. Fresh, quality fruits and vegetables are bright and colorful on their own, so simply placing them in a visible area can encourage adult patrons to choose them.

Use Small Plates

One of the biggest issues that leads to unhealthy eating choices is portion size. Small plates fill up faster than large ones, which can encourage patrons to eat smaller portions or to choose fewer selections, ultimately, leading to healthier eating choices.

Put Healthy Options in High Traffic Areas

When a hungry patron comes into a cafeteria, they are most likely to fill their plate with the first things they notice. Placing healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, in a high traffic area like the entrance to the cafeteria line will encourage more people to eat these foods.

Similarly, placing easy to grab health foods, like apples, bananas, or pears near the checkout counter – another high traffic area – is a great way to encourage patrons to select these items on their way out.

Add Labels and Descriptions

It is important to label all foods in a cafeteria, but the depth of the food descriptions can make a difference in whether or not the food is selected.

The name of the food should, of course, be the first thing on the label to help patrons recognize the food. The more descriptive the name, the more likely an adult patron is to select the food item.

Cafeterias that include health claims on food items may also find that those foods are selected more often, because the description encourages the patron to think about long term effects about what they’re eating now.

Offer Express Checkout

In public cafeterias, offering a healthy express checkout can be an incentive for patrons to fill their plates with healthy options. A checkout line may only serve patrons who are eating both fruits and vegetables, or who fill a certain portion of their plate with greens. Either way, this checkout line is reserved only for healthy eaters.

Better Food Safety through Technology

Written by Milt Miller – As food service technology advances into the future, the ability to pre-order meals on-line will become increasingly more important. Food allergies are on the rise among school aged students. Anaphylaxis is the number one cause of death involving foods in young adults. As the number of young people with food allergies continues to grow, concerned parents and school administrators are searching for ways to make serving them safer. Our northern neighbors in Canada, appear to be leading the fight for developing rules and protocols making school and university food operations safer for students with food allergies. Sabrina’s law was, passed after the death of a thirteen year old, who had an anaphylactic incident at school during lunch. It is designed to protect students with food allergies by making sure all school boards have policies in place that address anaphylaxis. Allowing students and parents to select and order a meal ahead of time could provide staff ample time to prepare a safe and allergy free meal. Pre-ordering technology can assist in making school lunch safer.

Menus are posted on line allowing parents to see the nutritional make up of school food offerings. Meal monies can be paid in advance and budgeted by how many times a week a student will purchase breakfast or lunch. Reports are generated permitting parents to see what their students are actually purchasing and they can control what they purchase on line in real time. Student food allergy information appears on the cashier’s screen to insure student safety.

I am familiar with at least one school software company, which is already providing parents and students with the ability to pre-order menu items. Currently, what I have seen in this development process, is the ability to order single menu items ahead on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Pre-ordering of this nature would provide parents with the option to plan their child’s meals and avoid the confusion experienced by young children in a cafeteria line, when forced to make choices. At the middle and high school levels pre-ordering would allow meals to be picked up at a specific area and cut down on time standing in line. However, with a bit of tweaking, the ability to pre-order an entire allergy free, reimbursable meal is also available with this system. What a relief this could turn out to be for parents and school food professionals alike.

Parents would be able to pick allergen free meal choices that could be pre-ordered for their students. What a bonus that would be, especially at the K-5 level, to insure that safe meals would be served to their children on a regular basis, without having to worry about what they are actually choosing. School food workers would be able to produce these items first in an allergen free atmosphere, know what special products are needed, and insure that each child is getting safe meals. Whew!! What a relief as a parent and as a school food professional.

There is now the ability to post menus on-line listing which of the six major allergens, peanuts, tree nuts, lactose, gluten, eggs, and shell fish, are not present in the dish. There can also be low carbohydrate and high protein meals for children with diabetes. By utilizing this technology parents could safely make choices for their young students. The students could pick up their meals in a special area, as they would have been made ahead. What more could one ask for food safety and efficiency? Older students could pre-order these allergy free, safe meals and pick them up in a designated area too. Operators would know in advance what products were needed and how much to order, what a benefit. I have spoken with college food providers recently, who are exploring the same type of process to effectively deal with food allergies. As we move forward allergies will not be going away and the need to deal with them will continue to increase. Better labeling and packaging only go so far. Anaphylaxis is the leading killer in food bourn issues involving students of all ages.

I see a need to grow in the future to provide safe allergy free pre-ordering options. Several companies are on the cusp of making this pre-order option a reality and at least one is already making this technology available. I believe this is a major breakthrough not only for safety, but also for speed of service and production efficiency. What do you think?

Milt Miller is the Principal and Chief Innovator at Milton Miller Consulting. Throughout his 32 years in the food service industry he has managed, operated and assisted food service programs to become successful. For more information on this and other topics, contact Milt at; www.miltonmillerconsultant.com

Does Knowing Nutritional Information Help You Make Healthier Eating Choices?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has passed a new law in the United States that will require many chain restaurants to include calorie information for all food items on the menu. The goal, according to the FDA, is to “help consumers make informed choices for themselves and their families.” (FDA website)

The law goes into effect on December 1, 2016. Restaurants that will be affected by the new law include those that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations. That means that sit-down restaurants, drive thrus, those that serve take-out, coffee shops that serve food, many bars, and more, will be required to provide calorie count information to consumers.

The question is, will having these calorie counts available help the general population make healthier eating choices?

How Do Calorie Labels Affect Areas Where They Are Already in Use?

McDonald’s has already started providing calorie counts on all foods. Arizona State University conducted a study to determine whether consumers would notice the calorie counts at McDonald’s, and if noticed, if those calorie labels would affect consumers food choices.

According to the study, certain consumers were more likely to notice that the calorie information was provided and to use it to make healthier consumption habits. Things like higher education and higher income both increased a consumer’s likelihood to do so.

New York City has been labeling calories on food since 2008, and Seattle has been requiring it since 2009. In both cities, it has been shown that for those who notice that the calorie counts are on the food, it does have some effect on the ordering and eating habits.

The question then becomes, how do we encourage people to pay attention to nutrition labels that are on foods?

A Brief History of Nutrition Facts and Food Labels

According to an article on the New York Times blog, “nutrition labels weren’t required on packaged foods in the United States until the 1990s.” Since then, there haven’t been major changes to the way that foods are labeled when it comes to health and nutrition.

When you’re purchasing foods at the grocery store, do you pay attention to the nutrition facts on the label? Do they affect your decisions to purchase or eat certain foods, or how much of those foods you eat?

Today’s nutrition labels are designed based on the eating habits of the American population in the 70’s and 80’s. Some schools today are working to make sure that when today’s children grow up, they know how to select a healthy meal, whether it is based on nutrition facts or not.

Teaching Today’s Kids to Eat Healthy

When compared to schools in other countries, American school lunches are not always the healthiest. Some schools have started to teach kids how to select a healthy lunch. A study at Cornell University showed that when children are given options before lunch time to pre-order their lunch, they are more likely to eat healthy than they are when they see and smell the foods they have to choose from at lunch time when they are already hungry.

In addition to making choices when they’re not hungry and cannot see or smell the food, some schools have opted to offer healthier options than they have in the past. In some cases, this means limiting calorie counts on lunch, and in other cases, it means simply offering more fruits and vegetables, and more whole grains.

While there is still some debate on how well these school systems are working, the idea is to get children to pay more attention to what they are eating and how it affects their bodies – the same thing that the new laws are hoping to accomplish with American adults.