A look at school meals across the pond

12/08/2009 - 00:00
In the UK there is a constant stream of news surrounding school meals, the nutrient standards and various free school meal schemes. But what are the issues affecting school meals in the US? We take a look…

More than 77% of the 1,200 school foodservice directors, surveyed by the School Nutrition Association (SNA), state that funding and the cost of food and its preparation are the most pressing issues facing cafeterias nationwide as they head back to school this autumn. 'School Nutrition Operations Report: The State of School Nutrition 2009' found nearly 60% of districts increased their school lunch prices this year to keep up with the cost of preparation. Just two years ago, only about a third of districts increased prices and the median price increase for school lunch was $0.15 in 2007 compared to a median increase of $0.25 today. As families are also struggling in the economy, survey results show increases in requests for free school meals every grade level since 2005. Healthy options The report indicates how school nutrition programs have increased prevalence of healthy options with peak gains seen in vegetarian offerings (gain of 12.4% since 2007) and low fat prepared/packaged foods (11.5% increase). Local produce is being included on more menus as 37% indicate they offer these items and another 21% of districts are considering. Additional offerings at districts include: -- fat-free or low fat milk - 99% of districts -- fresh fruits and vegetables - 98.8% -- whole grain items - 96.3% -- salad bars or pre-packaged salads - 91.1% -- yogurt and yogurt drinks - 87.9% -- from scratch-baked items - 74.2% -- vegetarian meals - 63.9% SNA president Dora Rivas said: "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." Fast facts Other findings from the annual report were: -- 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. After 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. Remaining the most popular, Mexican food is offered in 99% of school districts and Asian entrees are featured in 81%. -- Majority of districts (65.3%) have not banned any foods due to food allergies. Only about one in 10 districts have banned certain foods in all of their schools, an additional 22% have done so in some schools. Peanuts are the most commonly banned food item, with nearly 96% of districts with a food ban in place targeting the ban of peanuts. -- An increasing amount of districts are allowing parents to monitor or place limits on student purchases, with 78% 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.

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