1. Local, fresh produce is starring on menus
A majority of respondents say that they are offering local produce. Just fewer than 60% of responding districts serve locally sourced produce, and 67.6% say they offer salad or produce bars. Additionally, more than half (52.2%) say they include preference for regional and local sourcing of ingredients in solicitations or purchase specifications, and 47.8% have implemented farm-to-school initiatives.
2. Districts are getting innovative with breakfast venues
As the push for breakfast participation continues to grow, districts have come up with multiple ways for students to have a healthy start to their day. More than half of respondents (54.1%) that offer breakfast say they provide alternative venues for breakfast at school in addition to the cafeteria. Among those, 43.9% say they bring breakfast directly to the classroom at some schools, while 61.8% say they provide grab-and-go kiosks, up from 56.2% two years ago.
There has also been an increase in the number of districts that offer breakfast at the start of the school day as well as second-chance breakfast. Approximately 40% of districts say they serve breakfast within the first 10 to 15 minutes of the school day (up from 33.2% in 2016), and 33.9% offer a second breakfast during the morning break (up from 26.8% in 2016).
3. Schools are using various methods to reduce waste and food insecurity
Districts are making strides toward limiting waste. Almost two thirds of responders (64.1%) say they have implemented share tables, while 18.3% donate uneaten food to charitable organizations and 18.1% compost their food waste.
4. Special dietary needs remain in the spotlight
Students with special dietary needs have more choice in their meal options. Just fewer than half of the respondents (49%) say they offer gluten-free options, up from 44.5% two years ago. Additionally, 39.5% offer lactose-free milk (up from 34.1% in 2016) and 45.5% provide online access to nutrition and allergen information.
Some survey respondents have also banned certain foods due to allergy concerns. Nearly 18% say peanuts have been banned districtwide, and an additional 20.3% say that certain foods have been banned in some schools, with peanuts being the most popular banned food, followed by tree nuts.
5. Meal debt continues to grow
The amount of students who don’t have enough money to pay for school meals continues to climb, with 40.2% of respondents saying that students with inadequate funds for school meals increased last year. And 75.3% say their districts had unpaid student meal debt at the end of the 2016-17 school year.
Respondents say they employ numerous methods to combat meal debt, including:
- Offering online payment/monitoring of account balances (94.2%).
- Having school staff notify parents directly about low balances or meal charges (85.7%).
- Giving assistance to families completing free- and reduced-price applications (82.6%).
- Sending out automated phone calls, texts or emails for low-balance notifications (77.9%).
- Receiving financial assistance provided through donations (56.4%).