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Majority of School Nutrition Programs Now Offer Vegetarian School Lunches

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FOR RELEASE June 19, 2009
Contact: Alexis Steines: 703-739-3900 ext 175
asteines@schoolnutrition.org

Majority of School Nutrition Programs Now Offer Vegetarian School Lunches

SNA President Dr. Katie Wilson Presents New Findings on the Prevalence of Vegetarian Meals in Schools

WASHINGTON (June 19, 2009) School Nutrition Association president Dr. Katie Wilson, SNS announced new data today on the widespread availability of vegetarian school lunch options. Almost two thirds of school nutrition programs now offer a vegetarian school lunch on a consistent basis, up from 22% in 2003, according to the Association’s soon to be released 2009 School Nutrition Operations Report. The availability of vegetarian school lunches in a majority of districts is consistent with the overall trend in the past five years towards more nutritious school lunches emphasizing whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy. The vegetarian choices also come in spite of federal school lunch reimbursements that have not kept pace with increased food and labor costs. Dr. Wilson presented the research findings at the National Conference on Childhood Obesity in Washington, DC today.

School nutrition professionals continue to respond to the dietary needs of students – regularly providing tasty and healthful meal choices that meet diverse cultural, religious, and social preferences. According to a 2008 study by Harris Interactive published in Vegetarian Times, 3.2% of US adults follow a vegetarian based diet. Children are increasingly also following vegetarian diets. During fall 2008, in response to a call for comments on child nutrition reauthorization, the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service received over 10,000 comments on the need for increased availability of vegetarian meals in schools.

SNA has tracked vegetarian meal choices in schools since 2003 as part of the School Nutrition Operations Report conducted every two years. The series of Reports, based on surveys of 1,200 school nutrition directors nationally, found that the number of schools offering vegetarian meals rose from 22.3% in 2003 to 63.9% in 2009 and increased over 12% since 2007. The 2009 Report also found that 20.5% of school nutrition programs offer vegan meal options (no meat, dairy or animal products). Additionally, these types of meal options are most common at the high school level and least common at the elementary school level. Vegetarian school lunches include entree salads and veggie pizza with whole grain crust as well as beans and rice, chef salads with yogurt and sunflower seeds, cheese stuffed shells, vegetable hoagies (with 2 cheeses, red and green pepper strips, cucumber, lettuce, and tomato) and lentil sauce with pasta.

While the 41.6% increase in vegetarian meal options available in schools has been dramatic over the past six years, challenges remain. SNA member school nutrition directors identified cost of vegetarian items as a significant barrier to making these choices available. Currently school nutrition programs receive $2.57 in federal meal reimbursement for each lunch served to students qualifying for free school meals. The average cost to prepare a school lunch during the present school year is estimated by SNA to be $2.92. Incorporating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables into meals often adds to the food and labor cost. The School Nutrition Association is calling for an increase of 35 cents in the federal school lunch reimbursement as part of the 2009 child nutrition reauthorization process in Congress.

The School Nutrition Association (SNA),www.schoolnutrition.org, 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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