Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Behind the Apron: The Current State of School Nutrition Programs in America

Childhood obesity was the number one issue of concern in a large survey of school nutrition professionals nationwide, ranking even ahead of funding concerns. According to the School Nutrition Association, which released the report (.pdf):

Respondents selected childhood obesity as the most pressing issue facing school foodservice directors nationwide. Funding, the development of a local school wellness policy and the cost of food/food preparation were the next most pressing issues.

As seen in the 2003 survey, fat-free (skim) or low-fat milk is the most popular food option offered daily at elementary, middle and high schools. It is offered daily in elementary schools by 92.3% of the districts, in middle schools by 85.5%, and in high schools by 87.9%. Fresh fruits/vegetables and three or more milk flavors are the only other food options offered by a majority of the districts daily in all levels.

Lunch, breakfast and catering continue to be offered by a majority of the districts. After school snack and summer foodservice programs are offered by at least one-quarter or more of the districts overall.

A strong majority of districts have involved students in taste testing new items — 11.4% of the districts have students taste test all new items, 23.2% have them test most new items and 54.5% have them test some new items. This represents a consistent increase in the number of districts that have students test all new items.

Meal charges show consistent rates of increase over time. The average charge for full-paid lunch reaches $1.54 for elementary schools, $1.72 for middle schools and $1.77 for high schools. About 30% of the districts report that they increased their meal charges in the past year.

There has not been a significant change since 1993 in the number of districts with an open-campus lunch, with about 30% reporting such a policy for at least one school in their district. As in the past, high schools are the most popular venues by a wide margin for such a policy.

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