Stretching Your Budget With USDA Foods

Still colloquially known as “commodity foods,” the USDA Foods in Schools program serves up a variety of versatile ingredients.

School nutrition operators procure menu items and recipe ingredients from a plethora of sources, from local farmers to multinational food companies. Arguably the most important of these sources is the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which, through its USDA Foods in Schools program, provides a bounty of culinary components for school food authorities (SFAs) participating in the federal school meal programs. These items can be taken and used in a raw or minimally processed state, in a further processed form directly available from USDA or be diverted by the SFA to manufacturers that will process it into branded items in various forms.

Although there are more than 140 individual products on the USDA Foods Available List for SY2020-21, this is still only a fraction of the products that most districts put to use in school meals. USDA estimates that these items represent 15% to 20% of the foods on a lunch tray on any given day...

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