Aug. 19—According to a new survey conducted by the School Nutrition Association, 69% of directors surveyed said implementing recently proposed nutrition standards for school meals, which require additional healthy options, as their top concern. Limited funding and cost of food also were named as pressing issues.
Despite those concerns, the State of School Nutrition 2011 survey reported that many schools were making improvements to the quality of meals served. Some of the highlights include: 98% of districts offer fresh fruits and vegetables; 97% of districts say whole-grain foods are readily accessible; 89% of districts offer salad bars or prepackaged salads; 63% of districts provide vegetarian meals; and 98% of districts offer fat-free or 1% milk.
The survey also found that more programs are working to bring in more locally sourced foods, with 48% of respondents offering locally sourced fruits and vegetables, which is up 11% from 2009. Thirty-two percent of districts are involved in farm-to-school initiatives and another 41% are interested in implementing these programs. Twenty-one percent of districts have a school garden and 37% are interested in planning or starting a garden.
Districts also are making more items from scratch, according to the survey. Ninety-four percent of districts prepare some entrées or sides from scratch. Of those, more than 64% prepare at least a quarter of their entrées from scratch, and more than 71% prepare at least a quarter of their side dishes from scratch—both results are an increase from 2009.
Child nutrition programs are involving students in taste testing new menu items, with 89% of respondents saying they employ this practice. Thirty-five percent of districts test all or most of their new menu items with students.
Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they conduct nutrition education in the classroom, with another 31% saying they plan to or have interest in implementing these programs.
One area that has not changed since 2009 was the average time for lunch. The median time for elementary school lunch is 25 minutes. The median lunch period for middle and high schools is 30 minutes.