Schools Face Challenges as They Promote Healthy Meals During National School Lunch Week



Contact: Diane Pratt-Heavner  


Schools Face Challenges as They Promote Healthy Meals During National School Lunch Week  


NATIONAL HARBOR, MD – During National School Lunch Week (October 13-17), school cafeteria professionals nationwide are launching creative marketing campaigns and hosting cafeteria events designed to encourage students to eat healthy school meals. These efforts to promote fruits, vegetables and other nutritious choices included in school meals are more critical than ever as school meal programs face challenges, including declining lunch participation and revenue, escalating food costs and waste.

The School Nutrition Association (SNA) has consistently supported school cafeteria professionals in their efforts to improve menus and encourage students to make healthier choices. SNA has, worked with USDA and other partners to develop webinars, toolkits, education sessions, financial management and marketing resources to help schools increase participation and student acceptance while managing costs.

However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that new nutrition standards for school meals will force schools to absorb $1.2 billion in new food and labor costs this fiscal year. At the same time, more than one million fewer students choose school lunch under the new standards, decreasing revenue for many schools struggling to manage rising costs.

For example, New York’s North Colonie Central School cafeterias entice their students to choose school lunch with creative and healthy recipes including Japanese Cherry Chicken Rice Bowls served with Asian Cole Slaw and Snow Peas, and comfort-food choices like Turkey and Dumplings with a Garden Side Salad. The program is also experimenting with new Salad Shakers, modeled after popular retail chain options. 

In spite of these efforts, the district has experienced a 14 percent decline in student lunch participation since School Year 2011-12, when the district began making many of the changes required under the new standards. The subsequent decline in revenue, combined with increased produce costs under the new standards, resulted in a $47,000 loss for the program last year, further shrinking the program’s limited reserves.

Kettering School District in Ohio has always marketed healthy choices to students. The district has earned numerous USDA HealthierUS School Challenge Awards and was selected as a semi-finalist in USDA’s Recipes for Healthy Kids Challenge. Despite ongoing nutrition education programming, the district experienced a 7% decline in student lunch participation since the standards took effect.

Because less than 50 percent of North Colonie Central and Kettering students are eligible for free or reduced price meals, these districts cannot benefit from the Community Eligibility Provision, equipment assistance grants, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Grant Program and several other USDA programs designed to help school districts manage costs and increase student acceptance.

A recent survey by SNA found that schools nationwide have reported similar concerns, with an overwhelming majority of the school nutrition directors surveyed reporting increased food costs and waste under the new standards and nearly a quarter indicating that their programs operated at a net loss for six months or more. Other examples of school districts facing challenges under the new standards can be found at this link .

“National School Lunch Week is a time to celebrate healthy school meals, but this year, the professionals who prepare these meals are worried about the future of the National School Lunch Program,” said SNA CEO Patricia Montague, CAE. “National School Lunch Program was designed to serve all children, but under these regulations, students who can afford to are abandoning healthy school meals, increasing the stigma on students who rely on free and reduced price meals and threatening the financial stability of school meal programs.”

SNA supports strong federal nutrition standards for school meals, including limits on calories and fat, mandates to offer students more fruits and vegetables, and reasonable sodium and whole grain requirements. The association is requesting commonsense flexibility under the rules to help students adjust to healthier meals and protect the financial stability of school meal programs. Specifically, SNA has asked USDA and Congress to:

  • Maintain the 2012 requirement that half of grains offered be whole grain rich, instead of requiring that all grains be whole grain rich.
  • Maintain Target 1 sodium levels, and suspend further reductions until scientific research supports them.
  • To avoid food waste, offer, but do not require students to take a fruit or vegetable.
  • Allow healthy items permitted on the meal line to be sold a la carte as well.

Click here for details on SNA’s requests of USDA and Congress.

About School Nutrition Association:
The School Nutrition Association (SNA) is a national, non-profit professional organization representing 55,000 school nutrition professionals across the country. Founded in 1946, SNA and its members are dedicated to making healthy school meals and nutrition education available to all students. For more information on school meals, visit


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