The survey results also 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 costs an average $2.92 to produce. The increase would help programs keep pace with rising costs to providing students healthy, nutritious meals.
On the menu, the report indicates school nutrition programs have increased the prevalence of healthy options, with peak gains seen in vegetarian offerings (up 12.4 percent since 2007) and low-fat prepared/packaged foods (up 11.5 percent). Locally-grown fruits and vegetables are included on more menus, as 37 percent indicate they offer these items and another 21 percent of districts are considering them. Additional offerings include:
• Fat-free or low fat milk – 99 percent of districts
• Fresh fruits and vegetables - 98.8 percent
• Whole-grain items - 96.3 percent
• Salad bars or pre-packaged salads - 91.1 percent
• Yogurt and yogurt drinks - 87.9 percent
• From scratch-baked items - 74.2 percent
"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," stated School Nutrition Association President Dora Rivas, RD, LD, SNS, and executive director of Food and Child Nutrition Services for the Dallas Independent School District in Texas.
Additional key findings from the survey, which 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:
• Breakfast is served in more than 96 percent of districts, with traditional cafeteria, grab-and-go and a la carte being the most popular forms of service. After-school snack and summer foodservice programs remain popular, with nearly 51 percent and 43 percent, respectively, providing these services;
• In the face of increasing financial challenges, school nutrition directors are finding alternate ways to raise funds. About 75 percent of districts provide catering services for events within their schools, while another 27 percent 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, the most popular, is offered in 99 percent of school districts and Asian entrees are featured in 81percent;
• The majority of districts (65.3 percent) have not banned any foods due to food allergies. Only about one in 10 districts have banned certain foods in all of their schools, while an additional 22 percent have done so in some schools. Peanuts are the most commonly banned food item, with nearly 96 percent of districts with a ban in place targeting peanuts;
• Meat, cheese/dairy and fruits and vegetables are the items most commonly purchased with commodity dollars. Meat and cheese/dairy are especially emphasized, with more than nine of every 10 districts reporting that they used commodity dollars to purchase those items. Fruits and vegetables are somewhat less common, cited by 81.9 percent as being purchased with commodity dollars.
• An increasing amount of districts are allowing parents to monitor or place limits on student purchases, with 78 percent of districts offering this feature. Most of the districts that do not offer these options plan to implement them in the next 12 months or are considering doing so.
The "State of School Nutrition 2009" represents the feedback of over 1,200 school nutrition directors from districts in 49 states. The survey was conducted in spring of 2009. Copies of the full report can be ordered from the School Nutrition Association's online bookstore at www.schoolnutrition.org .