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More than three quarters of the 1,200 school foodservice directors surveyed recently by the School Nutrition Association (SNA) say that funding and the cost of food and food preparation are the most pressing issues facing cafeteria programs nationwide this fall.
According to SNA's comprehensive School Nutrition Operations Report: The State of School Nutrition 2009, nearly 60% of districts increased their school lunch prices this year compared to only about a third two years ago. At that time, the median price increase for school lunch was $0.15 compared to $0.25 today. Meanwhile, survey results show increases in free/reduced meal program participation across every grade level since 2005.
This fall, as Congress considers the 2009 Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act, the School Nutrition Association (SNA) is advocating that school foodservice programs receive an additional $0.35 for each reimbursable meal served. Current Federal reimbursements equal $2.57 for each “free” school meal served under the National School Lunch Program, which SNA says costs an average $2.92 to produce.
The report indicates school nutrition programs have increased the presence of healthy options with peak gains seen in vegetarian offerings (a gain of 12.4% since 2007) and low fat prepared/packaged foods (an 11.5% increase). Locally-grown fruits and vegetables are included on more menus with 37% indicating they offer these items and another 21% of districts saying they are considering adding them.
“These survey results show that despite the difficult economy, school nutrition professionals nationwide continue to provide children with high quality, nutritious foods and educate them on making the right food choices,” says SNA President Dora Rivas, RD, LD, SNS, who is executive director of Food and Child Nutrition Services for the Dallas Independent School District.
Last released in August 2007, the updated State of School Nutrition 2009 was accumulated from a survey of 1,207 school nutrition directors nationwide and benchmarks detailed information impacting school nutrition programs. It covers demographics and operational parameters, programs and policies, breakfast and lunch service types, food safety measures, foodservice budget issues, marketing and customer service and pressing concerns. Among the findings:
Breakfast is served in more than 96% of districts with traditional cafeteria, grab & go and a la carte being the most popular forms of service. Also, school snack and summer foodservice programs remain popular, with nearly 51% and 43%, respectively, providing these services.
As many school districts face significant financial challenges, school nutrition directors are finding alternate ways to raise funds. About 75% of districts provide catering services for events within their schools, while another 27% offer catering outside of schools.
The variety of ethnic foods served in school continues to grow as more school districts offer entrees that appeal to their students' cultural tastes. Mexican food is offered in 99% of school districts and Asian entrees are featured in 81%.
An increasing number of districts are allowing parents to monitor or place limits on student purchases, with 78% of districts offering this feature.
Copies of the full report can be ordered from the School Nutrition Association's online bookstore at www.schoolnutrition.org.