Chartwells, a school dining service that serves the Lehighton Area School District, has been keeping a "close eye" on the FDA's tentative decision to phase out trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils.
"Chartwells is completely on board with this," said Margie Saidel, the vice president of nutrition and sustainability at Chartwells. "We have removed trans fats from our students' food supply, and have done this for many years."
She noted that the removal of trans fats from their menus was both a conscious decision and a natural occurrence as the company stressed more whole foods.
Partially hydrogenated oils, the main source of trans fats, are found primarily in baked goods and processed foods. These man-made oils are not found in significant quantities in nature.
"What consumers and parents should know is that the less processed fats you eat, the less partially hydrogenated fats you will eat," said Saidel. "These partially hydrogenated fats come primarily from processed foods. In our school districts we are moving, as much as we can, from highly processed foods to minimally processed foods that are prepared in a way that is still appealing. It's a win for everybody."
Regardless of a school district's stance on eliminating trans fats, changes like these have taken place across the country thanks to the USDA's newest standards for the National School Lunch Program, which began at the start of the 2012-2013 school year.
Schools must comply with the program's guidelines, which required offering fruits, vegetables and whole grains, along with reduced saturated and trans fat content, in order to receive federal subsidies.
Parents have reacted positively to the steady shift toward less processed foods, said Saidel.
"As we move from processed foods to more natural, whole foods, we find that more students and parents are enjoying that shift," she said. "We're interested, obviously, in what's nutritious. But we are also interested in preparing foods in those foods in a way that are familiar and appealing to students, and presented in a way that is appealing. The ingredients need to be healthy, but we also need to prepare and present them in a way that leads students to choose them. We're trying to take a more comprehensive view of the whole issue."