As students return to school this fall, they will discover an even greater variety of nutritious food choices in their school cafeterias. School Nutrition Association’s 2010 Back to School Trends Survey reveals that, despite rising costs, schools nationwide are serving more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products and are making tremendous strides in reducing added sodium and sugar in foods served in the lunch line.
The SNA survey of school nutrition directors found that:
- More than nine out of ten schools districts are increasing offerings of whole grain products and fresh fruits/vegetables.
- Nearly 70% of districts are reducing or eliminating sodium in foods
- About two-thirds of districts are reducing or limiting added sugar
- More than 50% of districts are increasing vegetarian options
The data also shows that more school nutrition programs are implementing eco-friendly practices. Nearly a third of districts are purchasing locally sourced items while more than half use energy efficient equipment and 44% recycle packaging waste.
Additionally, the SNA report demonstrates that more school districts have adopted healthy a la carte line policies. Nearly two-thirds of districts with a la carte services are implementing nutrition standards and limiting the size and/or weight of their a la carte food and beverage offerings.
Improvements extend beyond the cafeteria doors as well: more than two-thirds of districts with vending services are increasing the availability of healthier beverages in vending machines.
When asked to specify changes in their programs for the coming year, respondents highlighted extensive improvements like: preparing salads with dark leafy greens, diversifying the menu with ethnic food choices, incorporating more whole grains in bread recipes, working with local chefs, starting farm to school programs and participating in the HealthierUS School Challenge.
These enhancements are particularly impressive in light of the significant financial constraints on school meal programs. More than three-quarters of districts expect food costs to increase in the coming school year and nearly two-thirds anticipate that the federal reimbursement for free and reduced price meals served under the National School Lunch Program will fail to cover the cost of producing the meals. Meanwhile, more students are relying on the program, with 83.5% of districts reporting increases in the number of free and reduced price participation in the 2009/2010 school year.
Congress is currently debating school nutrition legislation that would increase funds for school nutrition programs. Parents should contact their members of Congress and call for quick passage of Child Nutrition Reauthorization. For more information, visit School Nutrition Association’s Legislative Action page at: http://schoolnutrition.org/LegislativeAction.aspx.