Advertisement

Is Scratch-Cooking a Cost-Effective Way to Prepare Healthy School Meals with US Department of Agriculture Foods?

      Abstract

      Background

      Despite the resurgence of interest in scratch-cooking as a way to increase the quality and appeal of school meals, many school districts are concerned about the cost implications of switching to scratch-cooking. US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foods are the single largest source of ingredients for school meals, and about half of USDA Foods are diverted for processing before being sent to the school district.

      Objective

      We aimed to determine whether school lunch entrées made in a district from basic or raw USDA Foods ingredients can be healthier and less expensive to prepare than those sent to external processors.

      Design/setting

      This cross-sectional study examined the relationship between the extent of scratch-cooking and the nutritional content and cost to prepare entrées. Information was gathered by interview with school foodservice personnel and from school foodservice records from a convenience sample of 10 school districts in California that employed varying degrees of scratch-cooking and is diverse in terms of geographic location and the sociodemographics of the student body. The sample included all elementary school lunch entrées that contain USDA Foods offered during October 2010 for a total sample of 146 entrées.

      Statistical analyses

      Ordinary least squares regressions were used to test for statistically significant differences in cost and nutrient content of entrées according to the level of scratch-cooking.

      Results

      There was no significant relationship between total costs and level of scratch-cooking. Entrées with the highest scratch-cooking scores had significantly lower food costs, higher labor costs, and not significantly different total costs compared with entrées with no scratch-cooking. Nutrient content was not consistently associated with scratch-cooking, but scratch-cooked entrées did include a larger variety of non–fast-food-type entrées.

      Conclusions

      The findings suggest that scratch-cooking can be a cost-effective way to expand the variety of healthy school lunches prepared with USDA Foods.

      Keywords

      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment

      Purchase one-time access:

      Academic & Personal: 24 hour online accessCorporate R&D Professionals: 24 hour online access
      One-time access price info
      • For academic or personal research use, select 'Academic and Personal'
      • For corporate R&D use, select 'Corporate R&D Professionals'

      Subscribe:

      Subscribe to Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
      Already a print subscriber? Claim online access
      Already an online subscriber? Sign in
      Institutional Access: Sign in to ScienceDirect

      References

      1. Food Research and Action Center. Commodity foods and the nutritional quality of the school lunch program: Historical role, current operations, and future potential. 2008. http://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/commodities08.pdf. Accessed April 14, 2014.

      2. US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. White paper: USDA Foods in the National School Lunch Program. Updated May 2010. http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/WhitePaper.pdf. Accessed April 14, 2014.

        • Gordon A.R.
        • Crepinsek M.K.
        • Nogales R.
        • Condon E.
        School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study-III. Vol. I: School Foodservice, School Food Environment, and Meals Offered and Served. Final Report.
        Mathematica Policy Research, Inc, Princeton, NJ2007
      3. US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. Food distribution fact sheet. June 2007. http://www.fns.usda.gov/fdd/processing/pfs-processing.pdf. Accessed April 11, 2014.

        • Hecht K.
        • Samuels S.
        • Boyle M.
        • et al.
        The Federal Child Nutrition Commodity Program: A Report on Nutritional Quality.
        Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Princeton, NJ2008
        • Godfrey J.R.
        The renegade lunch lady, Ann Cooper, implements her lunch lessons from Berkeley, California to Boulder, Colorado.
        Child Obes. 2011; 7: 247-251
        • Collins B.
        Can schools save kids' palates? Cooking from scratch in schools—The greatest food service challenge of our times.
        Child Obes. 2012; 8: 323-326
        • Stanley L.
        • Colasanti K.J.A.
        • Conner D.S.
        A “real chicken” revolution: How two large districts are shifting the school poultry paradigm with scratch cooking.
        Child Obes. 2012; 8: 384-387
        • Godfrey J.R.
        Fulfilling the highest nutrition standards in Burke County district schools.
        Child Obes. 2012; 8: 400-403
        • Poppendieck J.
        Free for All: Fixing School Food in America.
        University of California Press, Berkeley, CA2010
        • Peterson C.
        A comparative cost analysis of commodity foods from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the National School Lunch Program.
        J Policy Anal Manage. 2009; 28: 626-654
        • Peterson C.
        A rotten deal for schools? An assessment of states' success with the National School Lunch Program's in-kind food benefit.
        Food Pol. 2011; 36: 588-596
        • Cohen J.F.
        • Smit L.A.
        • Parker E.
        • et al.
        Long-term impact of a chef on school lunch consumption: Findings from a 2-year pilot study in Boston middle schools.
        J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012; 112: 927-933
        • Feldman C.
        • Briceno-Pinar E.A.
        • Konas D.W.
        • Ruskin M.
        • Toney J.
        • Wunderlich S.
        A laboratory analysis of total fat content and an examination of portion size of foods served in four New Jersey public middle-school foodservice operations.
        J Food Serv. 2009; 20: 264-274
        • Newman C.
        The food costs of healthier school lunches.
        Agric Resource Econ Rev. 2012; 41: 12-28
        • Wagner B.
        • Senauer B.
        • Runge C.F.
        An empirical analysis of the policy recommendations to improve the nutritional quality of school meals.
        Rev Agric Econ. 2007; 29: 672-688
        • Crawford P.
        • Woodward-Lopez G.
        • Gosliner W.
        • Webb K.
        Lessons from Fresh Start can guide schools seeking to boost student fruit consumption.
        Calif Agric. 2013; 67: 21-29
      4. Ollinger M, Ralston K, Guthrie J. School food service costs: Location matters. May 2011. http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err-economic-research-report/err117.aspx#.U0wUsfldXZA. Accessed April 13, 2014.

      5. Wild P, Kennedy M. The economics of a healthy school meal. http://www.choicesmagazine.org/magazine/article.php?article=86. Accessed April 13, 2014.

      Biography

      G. Woodward-Lopez is associate director, Atkins Center for Weight and Health, University of California, Berkeley.

      Biography

      J. Kao is a research specialist, Atkins Center for Weight and Health, University of California, Berkeley.

      Biography

      P. Crawford is director, Atkins Center for Weight and Health, University of California, Berkeley.

      Biography

      K. Kiesel is an assistant professor, Department of Economics, California State University, Sacramento.

      Biography

      M. Lewis Miller is manager, community programs, Food Gatherers, Ann Arbor, MI; at the time of the study, she was a nutrition policy advocate, California Food Policy Advocates, Oakland.

      Biography

      M. Boyle is a senior associate, Abt Associates, Cambridge, MA; at the time of the study, she was a senior associate, The Sarah Samuels Center for Public Health Research and Evaluation, Oakland, CA.

      Biography

      S. Drago-Ferguson is an associate, The Sarah Samuels Center for Public Health Research and Evaluation, Oakland, CA.

      Biography

      E. Braff-Guajardo is a program officer, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Battle Creek, MI; at the time of the study, she was a nutrition policy advocate, California Food Policy Advocates, Oakland.