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March 9, 2000

Soy OK'ed as meat substitute in schools

WASHINGTON (AP) - Hoping to cut amount of fat that kids are eating, the government today approved the use of tofu and other soy products in federally subsidized meals in schools and day-care centers.

The Agriculture Department is dropping a restriction on how much soy can be used in meals. Until now, soy could only used be used as a food additive and only in amounts of less than 30%.

The change will also apply to some other products such as fruit purees and whey protein, which is derived from milk.

In announcing the move, USDA officials said they were trying to ''enhance the flexibility of menu planners in finding ways to reduce fat and saturated fat in the meals they plan as well as ... to meet the increasingly varied dietary demands of students.''

Schools have told the department they are having trouble complying with government limit on the fat content of meals - 30% of total calories.

The Reagan administration tried to make tofu a meat substitute nearly two decades ago - at the same time they tried to reclassify ketchup as a vegetable - but later dropped the idea. At the time, the proposals were intended as a cost-cutting move. USDA officials denied that was their motive now.

Although the new rule will allow schools to offer meatless entrees, such as tofu-stuffed ravioli, schools are more likely to use it to increase the amount of soy that they blend into hamburgers and fare now on their menus.

A standard soyburger, which contains no meat, would have 3 grams of fat, compared to 16 in a beef patty, and a significant amount of calcium. But the soyburger would have a third less protein than the beef patty and less iron.

About 26 million children eat lunch for free or at reduced prices through the federal program.

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