Challenges of funding healthy school meals

Sept. 23, 2009

More than 77 percent of the 1,200 school foodservice directors surveyed state that funding and the cost of food/food preparation are the most pressing issues facing cafeteria programs nationwide as they head back to school this fall.  According to results released in the Alexandria, Va.-based School Nutrition Association's (SNA) comprehensive "School Nutrition Operations Report: The State of School Nutrition 2009," nearly 60 percent of districts increased their school lunch prices this year to keep up with the cost of preparation.

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.

It is notable that the variety of ethnic foods served in school continues to grow as more school districts offer entrees that appeal to their students' cultural tastes.  Remaining the most popular, Mexican food is offered in 99 percent of school districts and Asian entrees are featured in 81 percent.

The report indicates school nutrition programs have increased prevalence of healthy options with peak gains seen in vegetarian offerings (gain of 12.4 percent since 2007) and low fat prepared/packaged foods (11.5 percent increase).  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 doing so.

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