Aug. 16—The School Nutrition Association has released its annual Back to School Trends Report, which has found that child nutrition directors are finding innovative ways to meet the new USDA meal pattern.
School directors are finding new ways to serve the increase in fruits and vegetables required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. More than 55% of responding school districts have self-serve salad or produce bars. Directors also are offering produce in grab-and-go formats. Nearly 64% of respondents offer prepackaged salads; 87% offer whole fruit; and 67% offer packaged produce, such as bags of baby carrots or sliced apples.
More than 60% of respondents plan to purchase locally grown or raised items in the coming school year.
Offering more whole-grain items is another component of the new regulations. More than 80% of districts offer whole-grain pastas, rice or cereals, and 78% serve whole-grain tortillas, pitas or flatbreads. Pizza is the most popular lunch entrée in 42% of responding school districts; however, more than 92% of districts are serving pizza with a whole-grain crust.
Nearly all respondents—94%—use some method to encourage students to try new items, with more than 87% using student taste testing.
With the new meal regulations, 90% of districts anticipate an increase in food costs in the coming year and 67% anticipate that the federal reimbursement for schools meals will not cover the cost of producing the meals. Nearly 64% of respondents have increased lunch prices for some schools for the 2012-2013 school year, with the average cost increase at 11 cents per meal. Lastly, more than 71% of districts reported an increase in free and reduced price meal participation.