Here are the top 5 questions we get when it comes to child nutrition software, menu planning, and nutrient analysis. Whether meeting the grain equivalents or deciding between weight and volume or how to account for condiments, we’ve got answers for the busy food service professional.

My breakfast menu is telling me that I do not have enough grains for the week. I don’t understand why. My menu offers 1 grain per day which is the minimum.

Within USDA Standards, there are both daily and weekly requirements that must be met. While regular USDA K-8 lunch standards must serve 1 oz grain equivalent per day, you must also serve 8 oz grain equivalent in a 5-day week. That means you must serve above the daily requirement at least 3 days in a week. 

An example of when you might not be passing is if you have multiple different lunch entrees on a daily basis. One of the lunch entrees offers 1 oz equivalent of grain and one offers 3 oz equivalent grain. In this situation, each entree offered is evaluated like it is the only one being served, so offering an entree everyday that is equivalent to 1 oz grain will not meet the minimum requirement for 8 oz equivalent of grain for a week. You will have a failing menu even though you are offering the other 3 oz grain equivalent entree. This is because it is possible that a student could take only the 1 oz eq grain entree everyday, thus not meeting the minimum requirements set by USDA. The USDA is ensuring the child who takes the minimal grain choice each day will still meet the weekly requirement.

My calories seem off for my ½ cup portion of vegetables.  My recipe uses 4 oz to scale my portion correctly but the nutrients do not match.  

There is a difference between 4 ounces weight and ½ cup volume. For example, ½ cup of lettuce only weighs 1 ounce but a ½ cup of applesauce weighs 4.5 ounces. Volume measurements relate to fluid ounces. This can be confusing when not dealing with a “fluid” product like rice or broccoli that is measured in ½ cup portions in Child Nutrition.  

When dealing with nutrients, it is important to use ounce or gram weight measurements. Ultimately, most food provides weight measurements in case or pack of each item. A good source of actual food weight is the National Nutrient Database. As a rule of thumb, if you use a measuring cup or spoodle, it’s probably a volume measurement.

Why do I need to enter a hamburger bun if there is already one in the software?

Not all manufactured products are created equal. A hamburger bun used in the child nutrition program must be able to show it can be claimed for credit. Perhaps a 2 oz hamburger bun in weight is not equivalent to 2 oz whole grain. That is why it is a must to enter in the hamburger bun you are actually using, while providing accurate documentation.

At a minimum, to calculate grain equivalents, you must have an accurate weight and full ingredient listing. Using a product without this information will provide no documentation for review. The USDA database includes a “standard of reference” for most typical food items. For some products, like whole fresh fruit, the standard of reference is sufficient because the Food Buying Guide can be used to determine how to credit the item for child nutrition programs. The standard for the hamburger bun in the database; however, does not provide ingredients or percentage whole grain contribution so it lacks documentation to determine if it is whole grain.

We have always grouped our condiments and salad bar items into one recipe? Does that work?

According to the Nutrient Analysis Protocols, shortcut recipes can be created for analysis but they are not intended for production. From the USDA:

“Shortcut data entry recipes for standardized choices can be created if the items offered do not vary and student choices are consistent (for districts using weighted averages). Some examples of menu items offered as standardized choices by SFAs/schools include fruit juices, cold cereals, and assorted salad dressings.”   

There are pros and cons related to these recipes. While it creates a simpler recipes and short menus, accuracy for analysis and flexibility in ordering by the school is lost. Also according to USDA: 

“Creating shortcut data entry recipes for condiments/accompaniments is not recommended unless the exact condiments/accompaniments are offered each day, and students select the exact percentage of condiments/accompaniments (weighted averaging).”

Help! I can’t figure this out!

Menu planning can be complicated.  There are many unique rules for child nutrition, like everyone’s favorite: meats are grains at breakfast–but only after grains are offered! There are so many resources but sometimes it can be overwhelming. Our statement is that if you have spent 20 minutes on something and you have not resolved it, get assistance.  Go to the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) website, try state department websites (not just your own state), go to the Institute of Child Nutrition (ICN) website, call your state reviewer, call a neighboring district!

School meal program rules are complex and a little quirky! The Health-e Meal Planner software and our Health-e Support Team will help you make sense out of them and keep you in compliance.

Have additional questions you’d like tackled in a future blog post? Let us know!

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