In a report called “State of School Nutrition 2014,” the National Harbor, Md.-based group reported 63% of school districts report offering salad or produce bars, while 69% offer pre-packaged salads. The survey also found that 52% of districts surveyed serve locally sourced fruits and vegetables, up from 48% in 2011.
A variety of methods are being employed to lure kids to try healthy food options, according to the survey. Student taste testing of new menu items is attempted in 64% of school districts surveyed, and 55% offer nutrition education in the classroom, according to the release. Other measures being used include:
- 37.5% of districts say Farm to School initiatives are currently underway in their districts, up from 32% in 2011;
- 35% of districts currently have school gardens, up from 22% in 2011; and
- 24% of districts currently participate in the HealthierUS School Challenge, up from 21% in 2011.
While schools are expanding healthy options and nutrition education, many districts still fight with decreased school lunch participation at all grade levels, according to the release. USDA data shows school lunch participation is down in 49 states, with more than one million fewer students choosing school lunch each day, according to the release. The State of School Nutrition survey revealed the average daily participation in school lunches declined from 68% in the 2011 survey to 64% in 2014.
“School meal programs are not only offering healthier fare, they are also finding creative ways to encourage students to try all the fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other nutritious choices in the cafeteria,” School Nutrition Association President Julia Bauscher said in the release. “Unfortunately, despite efforts to promote healthier meals, fewer students are choosing school lunch under the new nutrition standards, and that’s a huge concern for school nutrition professionals, already struggling to manage the high cost of meeting complex regulations.”
Bauscher said in the release that USDA should provide schools with more flexibility under the nutrition regulations.
Among other recommendations, the School Nutrition Association has asked Congress to eliminate the requirement that students must take a fruit or vegetable as part of a reimbursable breakfast and/or lunch. The group has cited a study in Public Health and Nutrition that found the mandate to serve fruits and vegetables results in a nearly 100% increase in wasted fruits and vegetables or $3.8 million thrown into the trash each day.