Cost, student acceptance most challenging of new school regs, says study

Food costs have increased, participation has decreased under new meal regs, according to School Nutrition Association.

Jan. 14—Cost and student acceptance are the top challenges for child nutrition directors when implementing the new meal regulations, according to a new report released by the School Nutrition Association.

At this year Child Nutrition Industry Conference (CNIC) in San Antonio, highlights from the survey “School Nutrition in Focus” were shared with the more than 540 attendees.

For several new meal pattern requirements, survey takers were asked to rank the No. 1 and No. 2 biggest challenges with implementation of those requirements. Survey takers could select from cost, student acceptance, product availability, preparation and staff training. Here’s how the individual components ranked:

• Increasing the amount of fruit: Cost
• Increasing the amount of vegetables: Cost and student acceptance
• Offering dark green vegetables: Student acceptance and cost
• Offering red/orange vegetables: Student acceptance and cost
• Offering beans/peas (legumes): Student acceptance
• Meeting the starchy vegetables requirement: Cost
• Offering whole grain-rich requirements: Cost and student acceptance

Other results in the survey include:

• So far in the 2012-2013 school year, food costs increased for 89% of respondents and the average increase was between 6% and 10%.

• Sixty-eight percent of respondents saw a drop in their average daily participation rate for September 2012—before the new regs were implemented—and September 2011. The average decrease in participation was 4 percentage points.

• Nearly two-thirds of respondents increased lunch prices for the current school year. For those who increased meal prices, the average boost in price was 10 cents.

• Mexican and Asian foods are the most likely ethnic cuisines to be offered in schools. Ninety-eight percent of respondents offer Mexican food and 89% serve Asian items. Asian food is experiencing the most growth of any ethnic cuisine, with 22% of respondents offering this cuisine more frequently.

In addition, the survey asked child nutrition professionals about which food trends they plan to increase or begin to offer. Many of these trends correlate to the new meal pattern regulations, such as whole grain-rich items, which 74% of respondents indicated they were increasing the usage of or adding to their menus, and fresh vegetables (59%), fresh fruits (50%) and low-sodium or reduced-sodium prepared/packaged foods (41%). Two trends that don’t relate directly to the new meal regs but showed up high in the list of emerging menu trends are vegetarian meals and gluten-free items, which both had 22% of respondents indicate they planned to increase usage or add these items.