SOURCE: School Nutrition Association

August 21, 2006 09:06 ET

Good Tasting and Good for You: Heading Back to School for Lunch

ALEXANDRIA, VA -- (MARKET WIRE) -- August 21, 2006 -- Picture this: a hot turkey and cheese sandwich on a whole wheat hoagie roll, with a raw vegetable medley, chilled pineapple, applesauce cake and cold, low fat milk. The turkey is lean, the cheese is reduced fat, and the entire meal costs $1.75. Where is this nutritious and delicious value meal being served? Right down the street in a school cafeteria. As students return back to school this month, they'll find high-quality school lunches and breakfasts that meet federal nutritional standards and receive high marks on local student taste tests. And, as a new report from the School Nutrition Association found, students are more likely to find new school policies in place designed to create healthy school nutrition environments that promote lifelong positive eating and physical activity habits.

The School Nutrition Association's (SNA) 2006 Back to School Trends Survey conducted July 19, 2006, at SNA's Annual National Conference, found that over 71% of school districts have made "significant" efforts during the past two years to offer healthy meal choices through the National School Lunch Program. Over 63% of school nutrition directors surveyed also said their districts have made "significant" efforts to offer healthy a la carte choices in the past two years -- up from just 38% in 2003. Over 61% of school districts also made "significant" efforts to offer healthy choices in school breakfasts. The most significant efforts in all categories are being made in the nation's largest school districts.

The Trends Survey comes the month after school districts were to pass local wellness policies to comply with a requirement of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004. According to the Survey, a large majority (86.5%) of the districts reports that they have passed a local wellness policy. An additional 8.8% say a policy has not yet passed, but is in development. Most (60.5%) of these wellness policies involve general or broad nutrition guidelines, with only one-third involving specific nutrition guidelines. Responses are generally consistent across district size and location segments. Earlier this month, SNA released a summary of key characteristics of the local wellness policies passed by the nation's top 100 school districts by enrollment.

Other findings from the survey are highlighted below.

--  Respondents were asked to describe the food policies that are in place
    in their district. Increasing the availability of healthier beverages in
    vending machines was the most popular response (74.7%). Other policies in
    place among a majority of districts include limiting the fat content of a
    la carte or vending items (67.1%), limiting the hours of
    operation/availability of vending machines (64.1%), increasing the
    availability of fresh fruits/vegetables on a la carte lines and/or vending
    machines (62.9%), and offering vegetarian options (42.9%). These represent
    increases over the finding in the 2005 survey report.
    
--  Also of note, the percentage of school districts that reported having
    a policy that removes carbonated beverages from vending machines is up to
    38.2% from 18.1% last year.
    
--  A total of 131 school nutrition directors (77%) provided specific
    examples of the healthy lunch changes being made in time for the new school
    year. Among the most popular responses were:
    
       -- Increased offerings of fruits, vegetables, whole grain foods,
          and other more nutritious foods;
       -- Alternative preparation techniques, such as replacing
          deep-fried foods with baked foods;
       -- Placing limits on the fat, sugar, and caloric content of foods
          sold through school foodservice and/or foods sold outside the
          cafeteria;
       -- A greater focus on wellness issues including nutritional
          information, student education, and more "marketing" of
          healthier choices;
       -- Maintaining portion control, especially in higher fat/higher
          sugar content items;
       -- Improvements in food quality, menu range (especially ethnic
          foods), and service quality;
       -- Developing and implementing wellness policies that will affect
          multiple areas, both within and outside school foodservice
          operations.
--  School nutrition directors also report that more children are eating a
    healthy school lunch and breakfast. Almost 63% of the 2006 respondents
    report an increase in Average Daily Participation rates for lunch and 62%
    report the same for school breakfast. A near majority (48.8%) report an
    increase in free/reduced participation. Correspondingly, student spending
    in vending machines is down from 2005, while a la carte spending is about
    even with last year's level.
    
--  Districts continued to report financial pressure resulting in the need
    to increase school meal prices, although incidences of funding cutbacks
    continued to decrease over the past two years.
    
--  Continuing a trend since 1998, pizza remains the number one school
    lunch (www.schoolnutrition.org/parent.aspx?id=1981) entrée choice according
    to the Survey, with chicken, and Mexican entrees taking the second and
    third spots. Students will have their say on the nation's favorite school
    lunch when they go to the polls now through early October to vote their
    favorite school lunch. SNA's "Vote for School Lunch" campaign encourages
    students to vote at www.VoteForSchoolLunch.org or
    one of five 'candidates' that illustrate how popular school foods such as
    pizza and chicken are truly healthier choices, as they are made with
    minimized fat content and maximized whole grains and kid-appealing taste.
    
The School Nutrition Association is a national, non-profit professional organization representing more than 55,000 members who provide high-quality, low-cost meals to students across the country. The Association and its members are dedicated to feeding children safe and nutritious meals. Founded in 1946, SNA is the only association devoted exclusively to protecting and enhancing children's health and well being through school meals and sound nutrition education.

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