QUESTION: "I operate a children's day care in my home. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reimburses me for meals and snacks served to the children. Do you have any information about why certain foods are permitted for use in the program and others are not? There are various vegetarian alternatives. In the past, TVP (textured vegetable protein) was not allowed, and now it is. However, tofu and tempeh are still not considered allowable proteins, according to the USDA. I think it would be good if these foods were allowed." S.V., Gainesville, Florida
ANSWER: Federal funding of the Child & Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), which includes home day care programs, day care centers, afterschool care programs, and shelters, supports daily meals and snacks for 2.6 million children and 74,000 adults. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), an agency within the USDA, administers the program on the federal level. At the state level, state education or health departments administer CACFP. In order for programs to be eligible for federal reimbursement, they have to follow specific meal planning guidelines.
You can read the complete regulations (Title 7 - Agriculture, Chapter II-Food and Nutrition Service, Department of Agriculture) online. Requirements for meals are published in Section 226 (see 226.20, pages 64-74). Scroll down to see Modifications of the "Vegetable Protein Products" Requirements, which were finalized in March 2000.
With the latest batch of changes to the program, "Vegetable Protein Products" was renamed "Alternate Protein Products (APP)." The limit on the amount of APPs that can be used in menus was removed, and the rule now eliminates the requirement that APPs be fortified. Appendix A of the CACFP (in Section 226 of the regs) spells out specifications for products that can be identified as APPs. Examples of some APPs are soy flours, soy concentrates, and soy isolates. Textured vegetable protein is made from soy concentrates. Veggie burgers contain APPs, but they aren't considered APPs in their entirety since they contain other ingredients (such as vegetables and seasonings) that don't meet the criteria set forth in Appendix A.
Tofu and tempeh don't qualify as APPs because they don't meet the requirement in Appendix A that APPs must be at least 18% protein by weight when fully hydrated or formulated. To date, they haven't been permitted in CACFP and school lunch menus as meat alternates because of concerns that there isn't enough nutritional consistency among available brands.
For anyone who is wondering, soymilk doesn't count as an APP, either (and beverages can't be used as meat alternates). Dairy yogurt can now be used in meal plans as a meat substitute (a half cup can be used to replace one ounce of meat in meal plans), but soy yogurt cannot be credited the same way. Soy yogurt doesn't meet the Food and Drug Administration definition of yogurt, and it doesn't meet the requirements of Appendix A for APPs.
Congress authorizes certain Child Nutrition Programs to operate for a fixed period of time (usually 4-5 years), after which they have to be reauthorized for another fixed term. Even though the CACFP is permanently authorized and does not have to go through the reauthorization process, USDA held a series of outreach sessions around the country in April and May 2002 to solicit comments for improving program access, nutrition, and integrity in all of the Child Nutrition Programs, some of which are coming up for reauthorization in 2004. You can read a summary of the suggestions that were submitted for CACFP online.
Though these comments have been compiled and summarized, it's never too late to send in your suggestions. These comments will be taken into consideration and changes will be made to all programs during the time that several are being considered for reauthorization.
Information about CACFP is available online, including types of facilities providing CACFP meals, the amount of reimbursement the government provides, etc. Addresses for and links to state agencies are also provided on this site. You can reach FNS Public Information Staff by calling (703) 305-2011 or writing 3101 Park Center Drive, Room 914, Alexandria, VA 22302.
The Vegetarian Journal published here is not the complete issue, but these are excerpts from the published magazine. Anyone who wishes to see everything should subscribe to the magazine.
Thanks to volunteer Stephanie Schueler for converting this article to HTML.
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