October 2, 2015

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Guest Blog: Schools Struggle to Manage Cost of Nutrition Standards

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 new rules. 

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 participation.

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).


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