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Meeting Nutritional Standards

Food-service workers are finding creative ways to prepare and serve food that meets new nutrition standards for school meals, the School Nutrition Association says.

The association’s "2012 Back to School Trends Report" is based on survey responses from 579 school districts across the nation. It found that schools are serving fruits and vegetables in a variety of ways to meet students’ varying preferences. More than 55 percent of responding school districts say they have self-serve salad or produce bars.

New federal nutrition standards enacted as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, require schools to offer students more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and to limit the sodium, calories and saturated and trans fat in school meals.

More schools are providing healthful grab-and-go options, the association found. Nearly 64 percent of respondents offer prepackaged salads, 87 percent offer whole fruit and 67 percent offer packaged produce, such as bags of baby carrots, grapes and sliced apples. In addition, more than 60 percent of schools responding say they will buy locally grown or locally raised items in the coming school year.

Other findings:

-More than 80 percent of districts are offering whole-grain pastas, rice and cereals, and 78 percent report serving whole-grain tortillas, pitas or flatbreads.

-More than 92 percent of districts are serving pizza with a whole-grain rich crust. Districts also report serving student favorites that are low-sodium, low-fat and reduced sugar.

-More than 87 of districts say they are using taste testing/sampling methods to encourage students to try new, more healthful menu options.

-More than 90 percent of districts anticipate food costs to rise in the coming year and more than 67 percent say the federal reimbursement for school meals ($2.86 for each free meal served) will not cover the cost of producing the meals.

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