Laws surrounding child nutrition need updating, according to non-profit health organisation the Good Food Institute (GFI). In a recent report by Food Navigator, it is revealed that the changing eating habits of the public have not been mirrored under the “outdated” Dietary Guidelines for America. The GFI believes that updating these guidelines would allow public facilities, such as schools, to offer more plant-based food products for students.

The USDA “play a critical role in ensuring that America’s children have access to the nutritious food they need to learn and succeed in the classroom”. To receive financial reimbursement, facilities must serve meals that meet the guideline’s nutritional requirements. However, according to the Good Food Institute, these guidelines are outdated and lack nutritional diversity.

The GFI stated that food endorsed by the government “should be as broad as possible to allow schools and other institutions to offer diverse foods and meet the dietary and cultural preferences of the people they serve, so long as nutrition standards are met”. 

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“Relying on outdated standards” may limit schools and care facilities, the report states. Without updated guidelines, facilities are less able to offer a wide variety of healthy and culturally diverse meals, and “does not meaningfully advance the goals of the Child Nutrition Programs”, says the GFI.

The USDA are currently investigating whether these rules should be amended. The GFI said that the Dietary Guidelines already “encourage the incorporation of plant-based foods”, including fortified soy milk, nuts, seeds and legumes. However, the GFI are pushing for more animal-free foods to be endorsed.

Food Navigator reported that brands of plant-based milk, such as pea milks from Ripple and Bolthouse Farms, “have equivalent or superior levels of protein, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin D”, as well as “less sugar than flavored dairy milks currently allowed in the program”.

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The GFI noted other vegan products that are nutritionally substantial and, according to the organisation, should be recognised within the guidelines.

One such example is tempeh, a fermented soy product frequently used as an alternative to meat. Tempeh “is an excellent source of protein that delivers calcium, B vitamins, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus”, according to the GFI.

The report also outlines the nutritional components of seitan, another meat substitute, which offers protein, fiber and iron. Contrasting to animal products, seitan has no saturated fat, trans fat or cholesterol.

Increasingly, research is linking the consumption of meat and dairy to a heightened risk of disease. Most recently, several children’s hospitals cut hot dogs from their menus due to the food’s carcinogenic risk.

It is for this reason that a growing number of families are choosing to raise their children on a plant-based diet. In fact, recent research revealed that 1 in 12 parents in the UK are raising their kids as vegan, predominantly for health reasons.