Nutrition impacts not only the health of children but also their ability to learn. Don Trouba of ConAgra Mills, Omaha, NE, examines formulating of baked foods to meet the new school meals program in this exclusive Baking & Snack Q&A. He describes a study done by the company involving whole grain breads served at schools in Minnesota.

Baking & Snack: Is ConAgra Mills involved in projects with your customers involving foods formulated to improve the health of children? Of foods that fit USDA’s new school meal program (51% whole grains, low-sodium, etc.)? What are you doing?

Don Trouba: At ConAgra Mills, we’ve been at the forefront of whole grain nutrition for many years thanks to our innovative ingredients and industry expertise. Because of this expertise and experience, baking and snack companies consistently come to us to collaborate on new products that are developed with kids in mind.

ConAgra Mills continues to introduce innovative ingredients that make mainstream whole grain foods possible, like our Ultragrain family of products and the new Ultragrain High Performance. We’re working with customers to blend our consumer insights, RQ&I, technical support, marketing expertise, and other resources to help them develop winning foods that are not only healthier, but that kids also love to eat. This includes foods developed to meet the new whole grain-rich definition, USDA daily minimums and maximums, and weekly limits.

We’re also helping our customers introduce and launch products through our SuperKids Whole Grain Sampling Program. For the last six years, this program has allowed school food service directors to sample great-tasting, better-for-you whole grain foods made with Ultragrain and Sustagrain.

For us, partnership goes well beyond the ingredients, which are just the starting point.

What do you advise bakers and snack food manufacturers that want to formulate foods that could improve kids’ health?

When working with bakers and snack food manufacturers, the first step is understanding who the audience is for the new products – is it designed for K-12 school foodservice, or retail – and what the nutritional targets are – more whole grain nutrition, higher fiber, lower sodium, or something else. Once that is known, we work with the manufacturer to choose the right ingredients to meet the specified goals.

Truly understanding consumer insights is also critical and can mean the difference between success or failure once a product is in the market. Through our insights work, we know that regardless of the nutrition, taste still trumps all. After all, if a healthier baking or snack food ends up in the trash rather than a kid’s stomach, it’s not doing what it’s intended to do.

Through our plate-waste studies with the University of Minnesota and K-12 Minnesota schools, we’ve shown that whole grain foods made with Ultragrain are liked as much as or more than their white flour-based counterparts.

Does your company work with any nonprofit groups that support kids’ health through play and physical activity? Which are they? And what is ConAgra Mills’ involvement? How has your support moved these projects forward?

As a leading consumer food company, addressing child hunger and nutrition education is a natural fit for ConAgra Foods and the ConAgra Foods Foundation. For nearly two decades the ConAgra Foods Foundation has invested in leading anti-hunger nonprofit organizations to ensure that American children are getting the nourishment they need to flourish tomorrow. Unfortunately, more than 16 million, or more than one in five, American children are food insecure according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture ( Food insecure means they don’t have consistent access to food throughout the year.

Since 1993, ConAgra Foods (inclusive of ConAgra Mills) and the ConAgra Foods Foundation have partnered with Feeding America to identify and fund innovative solutions to help end child hunger in the United States, providing 290 million pounds of food and more than $37 million to Feeding America and its network of food banks over the course of our partnership.

Dt; Each year ConAgra Mills holds a golf tournament to raise funds for the Food bank for the Heartland and other local charities, the bulk of which goes to the Food bank’s backpack program to ensure kids have meals over the weekend. Last year, thanks to the generous efforts or our suppliers and vendor partners, we raised over $100,000 and plan to raise even more this year. In fact, many of the companies we work with have been so moved by these efforts that they’re taking the initiative back to their communities and working with us in other ways.

Last year we worked with one of our rail partners – GATX – to roll out rail cars with “Child Hunger Ends Here” graphics in support of Feeding America and our commitment to help end child hunger. The cars are now traveling across the country raising awareness and encouraging everyday consumers to get involved.

The fact is that we can all make a difference, and the first step is often times a small step.