Today's guest blog post comes from Jean Ronnei, SNS, President of the School Nutrition
Association and Chief Operations Officer, Saint
Paul Public Schools, MN
View an infographic from SNA here.
Since new federal nutrition regulations took effect in 2012,
school meal programs have been working hard to improve menus. However, a new School
Nutrition Association (SNA) survey
of meal program operators nationwide reveals that the cost of meeting the rules
threatens school meal programs and their efforts to better serve students.
The survey revealed that despite widespread efforts to
promote healthier choices to students, 58% of respondents reported that student
lunch participation declined under the new standards. Nearly 93% of those
respondents cite “decreased student acceptance of meals” as a contributing
factor to this decline.
Meanwhile, 74% of districts with a la carte service report
that this revenue has decreased under new Smart Snacks in School rules, with
43% citing a strong decrease. This loss in revenue can cripple school meal
programs, already struggling to manage higher food and labor costs due to the
Alarmingly, nearly eight in every ten school districts have
had to take steps to offset financial losses since the new standards were
implemented, such as reducing staff, cutting reserve funds, canceling equipment
investments and limiting menu choices. Schools are losing necessary resources
to invest in innovative recipes using fresh, whole ingredients.
The survey also revealed substantial benefits for schools
participating in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which allows
schools with a higher percentage of low income students to serve all students
free meals. About one in five districts
report having at least one school that used CEP, and about two-thirds of those report
that CEP participation has helped their program’s overall financial health.
Districts participating in CEP were least likely to report a decrease in lunch
SNA supports the overwhelming majority of the new rules,
including caps on calories, saturated and trans fats and mandates to offer
larger servings and a wider variety of fruits and vegetables. To address
challenges under the new rules, SNA is calling on Congress to increase the
federal reimbursement for school meals by 35 cents and provide flexibility on a
few of the new rules (see www.SchoolNutrition.org/PositionPaper).