School Lunch Program Nutrition Standards: How to Comply with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Make sure your school lunch programs follow nutritional standards.

Make sure your school lunch programs follow nutritional standards. Photo credit: Flickr user U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It’s tough being a school cook. There are a million things to consider in a day’s work, and kids can be the worst critics when it comes to food. On top of purchasing food, meal planning, and cooking, you also have to worry about whether or not the kids will enjoy what you make. The nutrition of the food you prepare is also incredibly important, but it’s often a challenge to make something that is both tasty and healthy.

School cafeterias in America have been scrutinized a lot in the past several years, and cooks are feeling increasing pressure to serve up healthier options for kids—options that comply with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and thus qualify for federal reimbursement. But how do you make sure your meals comply with these specific recommendations without cutting into your cooking time or spending a fortune on nutritional analysis? Using a user-friendly, affordable, FDA-compliant online nutritional analysis software can help you ensure the meals you make are providing healthy fuel for learning (and growing) minds and bodies.

How to Use MenuCalc for Your School Cafeteria

For school-age kids, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are quite detailed. There are slightly different rules for each age group, each with specific requirements for servings of each food group from fruits and veggies to grains and dairy. Total calories, percent of saturated fat, and sodium also need to be determined. Given the amount of detailed nutritional information you need to take stock of, doing the nutritional analysis yourself may seem daunting. How can you possibly make sure each meal fits all those requirements and still have time to actually do the cooking?

With online nutritional analysis software like MenuCalc, it’s quick and easy to analyze and tweak your recipes to meet the guidelines for the specific age group you are cooking for—and you don’t need to be a nutrition expert or a computer whiz to do it.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Input recipes using our extensive USDA-compiled database of ingredients or create and add your own proprietary ingredients.
  2. Instantly receive a complete FDA-approved nutritional analysis and see how each ingredient contributes to the overall nutritional profile of the recipe (including sodium, fat and calories).
  3. Adjust ingredient amounts in your recipe to change overall nutrient values and comply with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Once you have all the detailed nutritional information, your analyzed recipes will automatically be saved and kept secure and confidential on your MenuCalc account so you can update it or refer back to it as you need. It’s incredibly useful to have this information on hand if and when concerned parents or school administration approaches you with questions about school meals. Within minutes, you can export all the necessary information from the software and present a full nutritional account of the recipes you prepare and show that they are in compliance with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Affordable Nutritional Analysis of School Lunches

Another great feature of online nutritional analysis software is that it is affordable for those on a limited budget—something that may be all too familiar to you in your cafeteria. Compared to other methods of nutritional analysis like food labs or nutritional consultants, online software is by far the most economical, ranging from $50 a month for 8-10 recipes to $250 a month for unlimited recipes. Sending a single sample to a food lab for analysis can cost up to $800, and working with a private consultant can cost you up to $200 per recipe.

MenuCalc offers various monthly payment options depending on your analysis needs. If you plan to chip away at analyzing and tweaking your recipes for your cafeteria, our most affordable package that allows you to analyze ten recipes a month might be your best bet. If you are in the process of developing and creating a bunch of new recipes for your cafeteria and have a large collection already, you have the option to upgrade to fifty recipes a month.

Healthier Children, One Meal at a Time

If funding is a struggle for your school but you feel like your cafeteria would benefit from having access to a nutritional analysis tool so you can qualify for federal reimbursement, think of some creative ways to raise money for the tools you need to make healthier food. Try getting parents involved in fundraising, organize a school bake sale, or make a case to your school board. With the growing awareness about the importance of proper nutrition, I’ll bet there would be many supporters of any tool that would help make healthier meals for kids. After all, it’s a pretty amazing thing to have the power to directly and dramatically impact the health and well-being of growing children who will one day be the future of this country.

We understand the challenges of making healthy meals according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. To try our simple nutritional analysis software, sign up for our 15-day free trial and see how MenuCalc will help you improve lunches at your school.

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