NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Costs of Nutrition Standards Threaten School Meal Programs

August 31, 2015

Nutritional school lunches are a priority in U.S. schools since new federal nutrition regulations were passed in 2012.  Unfortunately, although school meal programs now offer healthier choices than in previous years, financially school meal programs are suffering.

According to a recent School Nutrition Association (SNA) survey:

  • After new standards were implemented, 58 percent of school districts reported a decline in student lunch participation.
  • The contributing factor for 93 percent of districts was "decreased student acceptance of meals."

Offering healthier foods increases the price per meal of school lunches.  According to the US Department of Agriculture, due to new health standards in 2015 schools will have to absorb $1.2 billion of added costs. To respond to financial losses schools have cut back in other areas:

  •  Limited menu choices and variety are offered at 36 percent of schools.
  •  49 percent of schools reduced staffing.
  •  Meal programs\' reserve funds have diminished in 41 percent of schools.

Nationwide, school districts are reporting that national mandates, such as the 2014 law requiring all grains offered with school meals be whole grain rich are "a challenge" (44 percent) or "a significant challenge" (29 percent). If Congress expects to continue to see healthy lunch options in schools, increased reimbursement for meals and flexibility with new rules is essential.

Source:  Diane Pratt-Heavner, "Costs of Nutrition Standards Threaten School Meal Programs," School Nutrition Association, August 25, 2015.

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