Back to School Blues: The Chore of the Daily Lunch

The sunscreen bottles are nearly empty.  The luggage is stored in the garage (and if you’re lucky, the in-laws safely on their way back home).  We’ve binged watched every show in our queue and eaten the last of the season’s crop of good peaches.  Summer is this close to being in the rear view mirror.

Yes, and right around this time of year, as we vacuum out the beach sand, crushed potato chips and summer-old food wrappers from the inside of our cars, we are officially in ‘back to school’ mode.  For some it’s cause for cheering, (the kids go back to school after all), for others it’s a reminder of the long list of upcoming to-dos and calendar commitments (think soccer practice, school plays and scout meetings).  And aside from the obvious back to school prep work of clothes, books and school supplies, there’s the added chore of the daily lunch routine.

Are you going to stock up on lunch box supplies or will your kids buy lunch? Chances are that you’ll be one of approximate 60% of parents who opt for their school’s lunch program.  After all, parents are busy, kids are picky.  But fortunately, school lunches have become tastier and healthier.  In fact, a good deal healthier.    Most school districts now offer healthier food and beverages in vending machines, school stores, and a la carte cafeteria lines. Fruits, vegetables, water, and hundreds of nutritious snack products now fill these venues instead of the candy, sodas, and other unhealthy items that were commonplace less than a decade ago, mostly because of consumer demand and updated regulations.

Of course, that same demand is driving a level of clarity and transparency into what their kids are eating.  They ask questions and read labels.  So what exactly are parents looking for?

  1. Hidden Trans Fats

Over the next couple of years, food companies must phase out partially hydrogenated oils – a major source of artery-clogging trans fats – under a recent directive from the Food and Drug Administration. Until then, consumers are checking food labels for the word “hydrogenated.” If an ingredient list includes this kind of oil, but the trans fat amount reads zero, watch out.

  1. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

Over 64 countries now require GMO labeling. Though studies have not determined that GMOs are harmful to eat, many consumers are concerned: limited research into their safety, a rise in “superweeds” that resist the herbicides used on GMOs, and, consequently, more overall pesticide use.  So consumers are voraciously reading labels and looking for ‘USDA-certified organic’ or the “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal on the label.

  1. Wood pulp

That is not a typo.  Wood pulp is often lumped under the heading of ‘added fiber.’   So again, consumers are combing food labels for “cellulose” and “cellulose powder”.

  1. Allergens

Studies show that 16%–18% of children with food allergies have had a reaction from accidentally eating food allergens while at school. More than 170 foods are known to cause IgE mediated food allergies. In the US alone, eight of these foods or food groups account for 90% of serious allergic reactions: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, wheat, soy, peanuts, and tree nuts.  Fortunately, federal law requires food labels to clearly identify the food allergen source of all foods and ingredients.

School organizations such as North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) are beginning to leverage the increased amount of available product information as well as detailed nutrition labels to mitigate the risk of allergic reactions among students. By utilizing the 1WorldSync Digital Catalog of product information, updated straight from the source, NCDPI is able to comply with USDA federal regulation for meal pattern requirements and easily distribute it this information to parents, students, and even healthcare professionals upon request.

Whether or not students choose to pack or bring their lunch this year, one thing is for certain: their decision will depend on the amount of available product information. It is clear that consumer demand for transparency far exceeds just the Consumer Packaged Goods and Grocery industries, but also extends to any organization that distributes and sells their products to schools.

Click here to learn more about how 1WorldSync solutions can help the Foodservice industry provide product information transparency.

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