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The Current State of School Nutrition Programs in America

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Behind the Apron: The Current State of School Nutrition Programs in America

ALEXANDRIA, Va., May 16, 2005 – Childhood obesity and adequate funding ranked as the most pressing issues facing school nutrition professionals nationwide. In response, school districts are offering more fresh fruits and vegetables and skim milk, and are involving students in taste tests of new menu items.

These are just a few of the findings of the 2005 Operations Survey Report released today by the School Nutrition Association (formerly the American School Food Service Association). The report, last released in March 2003, benchmarks detailed information on operational issues impacting school nutrition programs. With an overwhelming response rate, the 2005 report more accurately reflects the distribution of school districts nationwide.

This ‘state of school nutrition programs in America,’ covers demographics and operational parameters, programs and policies, breakfast and lunch service, food safety, foodservice budget issues, marketing and customer service and pressing issues. Among the results of the survey were the following:

  • Respondents selected childhood obesity as the most pressing issue facing school foodservice directors nationwide. Funding, the development of a local school wellness policy and the cost of food/food preparation were the next most pressing issues.

  • As seen in the 2003 survey, fat-free (skim) or low-fat milk is the most popular food option offered daily at elementary, middle and high schools. It is offered daily in elementary schools by 92.3% of the districts, in middle schools by 85.5%, and in high schools by 87.9%. Fresh fruits/vegetables and three or more milk flavors are the only other food options offered by a majority of the districts daily in all levels.

  • Lunch, breakfast and catering continue to be offered by a majority of the districts. After school snack and summer foodservice programs are offered by at least one-quarter or more of the districts overall.

  • A strong majority of districts have involved students in taste testing new items — 11.4% of the districts have students taste test all new items, 23.2% have them test most new items and 54.5% have them test some new items. This represents a consistent increase in the number of districts that have students test all new items.

  • Meal charges show consistent rates of increase over time. The average charge for full-paid lunch reaches $1.54 for elementary schools, $1.72 for middle schools and $1.77 for high schools. About 30% of the districts report that they increased their meal charges in the past year.

  • There has not been a significant change since 1993 in the number of districts with an open-campus lunch, with about 30% reporting such a policy for at least one school in their district. As in the past, high schools are the most popular venues by a wide margin for such a policy.

The 2005 Operations Survey, Final Report represents the feedback of 1,434 school foodservice directors from districts in 49 states. The survey was conducted between January and March 2005. Copies of the full report can be ordered from the School Nutrition Association’s online bookstore at www.schoolnutrition.org.

The School Nutrition Association (formerly ASFSA) is a national, non-profit professional organization representing more than 55,000 members who provide high-quality, low-cost meals to students across the country. The Association and its members are dedicated to feeding children safe and nutritious meals. Founded in 1946, SNA is the only association devoted exclusively to protecting and enhancing children’s health and well being through school meals and sound nutrition education.