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School breakfast costs drop as number of breakfasts served increases

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, USDA reimburses school food authorities (SFAs) for providing meals that meet USDA nutritional standards. School districts generally expect SFA revenues—a combination of USDA reimbursements, payments by participating students, revenue from non-reimbursable food sales, and other non-Federal resources—to cover meal costs. Using data from a 2004 national study, ERS researchers constructed cost indices to allow comparisons across SFAs of how per meal costs would vary if more meals were served. Researchers found that the number of meals served had a large impact on per meal costs, especially for breakfasts. In all seven U.S. regions, breakfast costs dropped as the number of breakfasts increased. Per breakfast costs for the smallest SFAs were about twice that of the largest SFAs. Serving more breakfasts would allow SFAs to gain economies of scale—reduced per unit costs due to volume discounts in purchases, more efficient use of labor, or other efficiencies. This chart appears in the ERS report, Economies of Scale, the Lunch-Breakfast Ratio, and the Cost of USDA School Breakfasts and Lunches, released on November 5, 2015.

Rural school districts and those in the Southwest reported largest lunch price increases

Friday, November 6, 2015

In 2014, over 30 million U.S. schoolchildren participated in USDA’s National School Lunch Program on an average school day. Seventy-two percent of them received their meals for free, or paid a reduced price; the remaining 28 percent purchased the full-price, or paid, lunch. Until a few years ago, prices charged for paid lunches generally increased slowly to cover rising costs of producing school lunches. Starting in school year 2011-12, many districts raised prices more sharply to comply with the Paid Lunch Equity provision, which went into effect that year. This provision requires school districts to gradually ensure that average revenue per paid lunch plus the USDA paid lunch reimbursement is at least as high as the USDA reimbursement for free lunches. Paid-lunch prices rose by an average of 6.8 percent for school districts in the Southwest and 4.8 percent in the Mid-Atlantic between school years 2010-11 and 2011-12, according to ERS calculations using data from a USDA-sponsored study. Rural school districts reported an average increase of 4.7 percent in paid-lunch prices compared to an increase of 3.4 percent for city districts. Areas with higher price increases may experience greater reductions in paid-lunch participation since research shows that some families cut back on school lunch purchases when lunch prices rise. This chart appears in “A Look at What’s Driving Lower Purchases of School Lunches” in the October 2015 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Number of students paying full price for school lunches declined since the 2007-09 recession

Monday, October 19, 2015

In fiscal 2014, 30 million children participated in USDA’s National School Lunch Program on an average school day, down from a peak of 32 million in 2011. The decline since 2011 reflects a drop in students taking full-price, or “paid,” lunch that began in 2008. A sharp increase in students taking free lunch during 2008-11 as a result of the 2007-09 recession made up for the drop in students taking paid lunch. During 2011-14, students taking free lunch grew more slowly, while students taking paid lunch continued to fall at roughly the same pace. Participation also fell in the early 1980s in response to tightened access to free lunches, reduction in USDA reimbursements to schools, increases in prices for paid lunch, and the 1980-82 recession. This chart appears in “A Look at What’s Driving Lower Purchases of School Lunches” in the October 2015 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Participation rate for full price paid lunches in USDA's National School Lunch Program declined after 2008

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Since its start in 1946, USDA’s National School Lunch Program (NSLP) has offered and served lunches to children of all income levels. Based on household income, eligible students can receive their lunches for free or at a reduced price. Students not approved for free or reduced price lunches can purchase NSLP lunches at the “paid lunch” price. For reduced price and paid lunches, participation rates—the share of students in each certification category who participate—have fallen in recent years. In fiscal 2014, 67 percent of students approved to receive reduced price meals took the reduced price lunch, down from 73 percent in fiscal 2009. After increasing during the 2000s, the paid lunch participation rate fell from 47 percent in fiscal 2008 to 37 percent in fiscal 2014. The participation rate for free lunches has been fairly constant at around 80 percent over 2007-2014. A combination of reasons may be affecting NSLP participation, including tougher economic times leading more parents to pack their children’s lunches rather than buy lunch, as well as recent changes to NSLP meal requirements and price increases for paid lunches. This chart is from the ERS report, School Meals in Transition, released on August 20, 2015.

Number of Summer Food Service Program sites grew in 2014

Monday, June 15, 2015

When school lets out for the summer, low-income children who participate in USDA’s National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs lose access to weekday free and reduced-price meals, which may be a hardship for income-strapped families. Through the Summer Food Service Program, USDA reimburses schools, camps, non-profit organizations, and community agencies for nutritious meals and snacks served at no charge to children at eligible sites. A site is eligible for USDA reimbursement if it operates in an area where at least half of the children come from families with incomes at or below 185 percent of the Federal poverty level or if more than half of the children the site serves meet this income criterion. The number of sites offering summer meals rose 16 percent from 38,845 sites in 2012 to 45,170 sites in 2014. Participation on an average operating day in July increased from 2.3 million children in 2012 to 2.6 million children in 2014. In summer 2014, the program provided over 160 million meals and snacks to children at a cost to USDA of $465 million. This chart is from the Child Nutrition Programs: Summer Food Service Program topic page on the ERS website

Fruits and vegetables top the list of locally produced foods served in U.S. schools

Thursday, June 4, 2015

According to USDA’s Farm to School Census, 36 percent of the U.S. public school districts that completed the questionnaire reported serving at least some locally produced foods in school lunches or breakfasts during school years 2011-12 or 2012-13. While fruits and vegetables topped the list of local foods served in schools in 2011-12, 45 percent of the school districts that used local foods reported serving locally produced milk, and 27 percent reported serving locally produced baked goods. Some States have State-produced foods, such as fruits and vegetables, grains, meats, and dairy products included in the products donated by USDA for use in school meals (a program called USDA Foods). The DOD Fresh Program allows districts to use USDA funds to obtain fresh fruits and vegetables through the Department of Defense, which provides information to districts on foods that are sourced locally. This chart appeared in “Many U.S. School Districts Serve Local Foods” in the March 2015 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Share of U.S. school districts serving locally produced foods varies by State

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 established the USDA Farm to School Program to encourage school districts to use locally produced food for school-provided breakfasts and lunches. USDA’s Farm to School Census, covering school years 2011-12 and 2012-13, found that 36 percent of the 9,887 public school districts that responded to the Census served locally produced food in their school meal programs, and an additional 9 percent planned to serve local foods in the future. Many States have legislation encouraging local sources of foods for school meals, and in a handful of States (Rhode Island, Maryland, Delaware, Vermont, Maine, and Hawaii) more than 80 percent of school districts that completed the questionnaire reported serving some local foods. In 10 other States, 20 percent or fewer districts reported serving local foods. Some of the hurdles to serving local foods cited by school districts included lack of year-round availability of key items, high prices for local foods, and lack of availability of local foods from primary vendors. This map appears in “Many U.S. School Districts Serve Local Foods” in the March 2015 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Strict <em>Salmonella</em> standards contribute to safety of school lunches

Friday, February 27, 2015

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) provides about half of the ground beef served in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) by purchasing raw and cooked ground beef products from U.S. meat producers. AMS-approved suppliers must meet AMS’s basic standards. AMS suppliers can be “active” and sell to the NSLP or be “inactive” and sell in commercial markets only. Active ground beef suppliers must adhere to a strict Salmonella standard. A recent ERS study found that on average, ground beef from all groups of producers examined had levels of Salmonella below the limit set by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Researchers also found that AMS standards incentivize producers to supply ground beef to the NSLP that has lower levels of Salmonella contamination (0.7 percent of samples testing positive) than the ground beef the same suppliers sell to commercial buyers (1.6 percent of samples testing positive). Plants supplying ground beef to the NSLP performed better on Salmonella tests than commercial-only and inactive AMS plants. This chart appears in “Strict Standards Nearly Eliminate Salmonella From Ground Beef Supplied to Schools” in the February 2015 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Schools get locally-produced foods from a variety of sources

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

USDA encourages school districts to source locally-produced food through its Farm to School Program established as part of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Data from USDA’s Farm to School Census, reflecting responses from 9,887 public school districts (75 percent of all U.S. public school districts), reveal that 4,322 districts were serving at least some local foods in school year 2011-2012 or started to in 2012-2013. The top local foods categories were fruits and vegetables, milk, and baked goods. Nearly two-thirds of districts participating in farm to school activities purchased local foods through a distributor. A little over 40 percent of these districts obtained local foods directly from farmers and other producers, while 40 percent sourced local foods from food processors and manufacturers. Some States arrange to have State-produced fruits and vegetables included in the commodities donated by USDA for use in school meals. This chart appears in Trends in U.S. Local and Regional Food Systems released January 29, 2015.

Number of Summer Food Service Program sites and participants increased in 2013

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

USDA’s Summer Food Service Program provides nutritious meals and snacks to children in low-income areas during the summer months, and during long vacation periods for schools on year-round schedules. USDA reimburses schools, local government agencies, camps, private non-profit organizations, and other sponsors for meals and snacks served to children at eligible sites. The program served 151 million meals and snacks at a cost to USDA of more than $427 million in fiscal 2013. After rising in 2008 and 2009, the number of sites offering summer meals to children remained about the same from 2010 to 2012 but rose from 38,845 in 2012 to 42,654 in 2013. Participation also increased in 2013, with the program serving more than 2.4 million children on an average operating day in July. This chart is from the Child Nutrition Programs: Summer Food Service Program topic page on the ERS website, updated June 23, 2014.

Close to 6 percent of District of Columbia residents participated in USDA's Summer Food Service Program in 2012

Friday, July 11, 2014

When school is not in session, USDA’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) provides free meals and snacks to children and teens at approved sites such as schools, churches, parks, community centers, and day camp programs. SFSP meals must meet Federal nutrition guidelines and are served in areas with high concentrations of low-income children. In July 2012, the percent of a State’s total population participating in SFSP ranged from 0.2 percent in Nevada to 1.9 percent in New Mexico and New York. That same year, 5.7 percent of the District of Columbia’s population participated in the program. Demographic factors help explain differences in program participation as a percentage of total population; higher SFSP participation rates could reflect a higher proportion of school-age children relative to total population, or a higher number of low-income children relative to the overall school-age population. Differences in availability and accessibility of SFSP sites also play an important role in the variability across States. This map is from ERS’s Food Environment Atlas.

Difference in availability of USDA school lunches and breakfasts narrows

Monday, June 9, 2014

USDA’s National School Lunch Program (NSLP) was established in 1946 and has been available in nearly all public schools and many private schools since the 1970s. In fiscal 2013, about 52 million children attended schools where NSLP lunches were offered to students and 59 percent of children enrolled in those schools participated in the program. USDA’s School Breakfast Program (SBP) is a newer program—the SBP was not granted permanent authorization until 1975. As SBP funding increased and grants to schools to help start up the program became more available, the number of schools offering the program steadily grew. By fiscal 2013, 94 percent of the students who had access to the NSLP also had access to the SBP (48 million school children). However, only 27 percent of children enrolled in schools offering the SBP participated in that program in fiscal 2013. This chart appears in ERS’s The Food Assistance Landscape: FY 2013 Annual Report.

Nutrition programs projected to account for 80 percent of outlays under the Agricultural Act of 2014

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The new U.S. farm bill, the Agricultural Act of 2014, was signed on February 7, 2014 and will remain in force through 2018. The 2014 Act makes major changes in commodity programs, adds new crop insurance options, streamlines conservation programs, modifies provisions of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and expands programs for specialty crops, organic farmers, bioenergy, rural development, and beginning farmers and ranchers. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that 80 percent of outlays under the 2014 Farm Act will fund nutrition programs, 8 percent will fund crop insurance programs, 6 percent will fund conservation programs, 5 percent will fund commodity programs, and the remaining 1 percent will fund all other programs, including trade, credit, rural development, research and extension, forestry, energy, horticulture, and miscellaneous programs. Find this chart and additional information on the new U.S. farm bill on the Farm Bill Resources pages.

Competitive foods are a larger portion of school foodservice revenues in more affluent districts

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Beginning with the 2014-15 school year, competitive foods in U.S. schools—foods in cafeteria à la carte lines, vending machines, school stores, and other locations—will be subject to new nutrition standards aimed at creating a healthier nutrition environment. Concerns have been raised that the new standards may reduce revenues from competitive foods and hurt less affluent schools. ERS analysis of the 2002-03 School Food Authority Characteristics Survey found that revenues from competitive foods were highly skewed. School Food Authorities (SFAs), the foodservice management units for school districts, reported obtaining an average of 12 percent of their revenues from competitive foods. While 10 percent of SFAs received 36 percent or more of their revenues from competitive foods, revenue shares were smaller than average for the majority (54 percent) of SFAs. When separated into quartiles based on competitive foods’ share of total revenues, SFAs with higher shares were typically located in more affluent districts and served fewer low-income students receiving free and reduced-price meals than did schools with low competitive food revenues. This chart appears in “Eating Better at School: Can New Policies Improve Children’s Food Choices?” in the September 2013 Amber Waves.

Participation in USDA's Child and Adult Care Food Program shifts to child care centers

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

In fiscal 2012, on a typical day, USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) provided meals and snacks to more than 3.4 million children at family day care homes and nonprofit child care centers, homeless shelters, and after-school programs. The program also provided subsidized meals for 118,530 older or functionally impaired adults at adult day care centers. The total cost to USDA for CACFP in fiscal 2012 was $2.8 billion—96 percent of which covered children’s meals and snacks. Since 1992, the average number of meals served annually to children in family day care homes and child care centers has risen from 1.2 to 1.9 billion. In 2012, 70 percent of meals were served in centers, reflecting growing numbers of children attending child care centers and fewer family day care homes participating in CACFP. In 1996, reimbursements from USDA to family day care homes shifted from a single rate to a two-tiered system with higher reimbursements for homes serving primarily low-income children. Eligible centers continued to be reimbursed by USDA on a sliding scale based on the child’s family’s income. This chart is from the Child Nutrition Programs: Child and Adult Care Food Program topic page on the ERS website.

Serving school children a healthier mix of vegetables raises vegetable consumption

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

America’s schools are entering their second year of meeting new nutrition standards for USDA school lunches that feature whole grains, low-fat milk, more fruit, and a healthier mix of vegetables. To explore the question of whether children who are offered more fruits and vegetables will actually eat them, ERS researchers used a nationally representative survey of 242 schools in 2005 to match food intake data to that day’s lunch menus. After controlling for a number of student and school foodservice characteristics, serving more fruits and a healthier mix of vegetables did increase students’ vegetable consumption, although average amounts consumed were still small. For example, in schools that offered more total vegetables, students ate 0.38 cups of them at lunch on average versus the 0.30 cups eaten by students in schools that did not meet the total vegetables standard. Available alternatives mattered—students at schools that had no à la carte options, or only healthy à la carte options, had higher intakes of dark green vegetables. This chart appears in “Eating Better at School: Can New Policies Improve Children’s Food Choices?” in the September 2013 Amber Waves.

Number of Summer Food Service Program sites and participants stable since 2010

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

USDA’s Summer Food Service Program provides nutritious meals and snacks to children in low-income areas during the summer months (and during other long vacation periods for schools on year-round schedules). USDA reimburses schools, local governmental agencies, camps, private nonprofit organizations, and other sponsors for meals and snacks served to children at eligible sites. The program served 144 million meals and snacks at a cost to USDA of $398 million in fiscal year 2012, primarily during summer vacation. After rising in 2008 and 2009, the number of sites offering summer meals to children has been fairly steady at around 39,000 sites since 2010, and participation has remained at around 2.3 million children. This chart is from the Child Nutrition Programs: Summer Food Service Program topic page on the ERS website, updated July 26, 2013.

During economic downturns, more children receive free and reduced-price school lunches

Thursday, May 30, 2013

USDA’s National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is the Nation’s second largest food and nutrition assistance program. In fiscal year 2012, expenditures totaled $11.6 billion and an average 31.6 million children participated in the program on a typical school day. While total participation is closely linked to school enrollment and does not vary with economic conditions, the share of children receiving free or reduced-price lunches rises during economic downturns. During the Great Recession (December 2007 to June 2009) and continuing through 2010, the share of NSLP participants receiving free or reduced-price meals grew from 59 to 65 percent. Preliminary data for fiscal years 2011 and 2012 show that this share continued to rise even after the unemployment rate started to decline, suggesting that economic conditions did not improve enough to raise people out of poverty and the need for assistance remained high. This chart appears in the May 2013 Amber Waves article, “Economic Conditions Affect the Share of Children Receiving Free or Reduced-Price School Lunches.”

Participation in USDA's Summer Food Service Program remained high in 2011

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Summer Food Service Program is one of five major domestic food assistance programs administered by USDA that exclusively or primarily serve the nutritional needs of children. The program served 137 million meals and snacks at a cost to USDA of $373 million in fiscal year 2011, primarily during summer vacation. The number of sites offering summer meals to children grew from 38,471 in 2010 to 39,063 in 2011, while participation remained steady at 2.3 million children after rising in each of the last four years. This chart is from the Child Nutrition Programs: Summer Food Service Program topic page on the ERS website, updated July 11, 2012.

After-school snack component of USDA's National School Lunch Program is growing

Thursday, March 29, 2012

In fiscal year 2010, 219 million after-school snacks were served to children through USDA's National School Lunch Program (NSLP), up from 139 million in 2003. Schools that participate in the NSLP can choose to offer nutritious snacks as part of after-school care programs that provide educational or enrichment activities. Over 90 percent of the 2010 snacks were served in schools with high percentages of low-income students. Snacks provided to students who qualify for free school meals receive a 76-cent subsidy for the 2011-12 school year, versus subsidies of 38 cents and 7 cents, respectively, for snacks provided to students qualifying for reduced-price and full-price school meals. Schools in which at least 50 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals are "area eligible" and receive the 76-cent subsidy for all participating students. This chart appeared in "Feeding Children After School: The Expanding Role of USDA Child Nutrition Programs" in the March 2012 issue of ERS's Amber Waves magazine.

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