Parents who are interested in knowing the exact ingredients or sugar content of the food their children encounter in the school cafeteria often run up against a brick wall: the Office of SchoolFood’s public website.
The site site lists nutritional information like calories, fat, sodium, protein and dietary fiber. It also assures parents that there are no trans fats or additives like artificial sweeteners and MSG in the food. But the site doesn’t tell parents what is in their children’s meals.
Until now. The Community Section’s “NYC Green Schools” columnist, Elizabeth Puccini, recently learned that James Subudhi, the environmental policy and advocacy coordinator at WE ACT for Environmental Justice, had discovered a back-ways route to the Office of SchoolFood’s directory of ingredients that is not accessible to the public from its main website. Puccini asked Subudhi to share instructions on how parents can access the information:
Because NYC Green Schools believes strongly that parents and students have a right to know the ingredients of the food served in our city’s schools — that this transparency is a must to ensure the food in our schools is safe and nutritious — we invited James to write about his discovery.
Puccini told us that when she looked at the lists, she was startled to find potential allergens hiding in surprising places. For example, the city’s “fully cooked boiled beef patty” contains textured vegetable protein and caramel color — a problem for unsuspecting students who are allergic to soy. The city’s allergy policy is to offer students a variety of meals in component parts, so that students with allergies can pick and choose from foods that they can eat.
A quick look through the ingredient lists and nutritional food shows that there is a lot of healthy food offered. But it also shows that some products on the city’s cafeteria menus do not meet the nutritional guidelines the city established for bake sale goods last year. Those rules — which prompted controversy because they excluded homemade goods while allowing questionably healthy products like Pop-Tarts and Doritos — require grain-based bake sale snacks to include at least two grams of fiber. No more than 35 percent of bake sale goods’ total calories may come from sugar or fat, and no more than 10 percent of calories may come from saturated fat.
Compare that to the city’s “pancakes with cinnamon flavor,” a grain-based breakfast food with only half a gram of dietary fiber. A croissant and a cinnamon crescent roll offered both have more than 35 percent of their calories from fat. One portion of the mozzarella sticks served in elementary and middle schools provides 40 percent of the saturated fat that the Food and Drug Administration recommends adults consume in a day. One slice of the French bread pizza contains 35 percent of the FDA’s recommended saturated fat intake.
Read Subudhi’s instructions on how to access the ingredients lists here, and share what you find there in the comments section.