Vegetarian meals in schools will be the next big thing, according to a recent survey from the School Nutrition Association.


The School Nutrition Association's School Nutrition Operations Report: The State of School Nutrition 2009 included results from a survey of 1,200 school foodservice directors from 49 states. Respondents reported increased prevalence of healthy options in schools, namely with vegetarian offerings and low fat prepared and packaged foods. Vegetarian offerings are up 12% since 2007, now offered in 64% of schools.


Locally grown fruits and vegetables are also making their way onto school menus, with 37% of districts offering and 21% considering including them in their lunch lines. Fresh fruits and vegetables as a whole were part of 99% of the school districts' offerings.


Salad bars and packaged salads were close, with 91% of school districts including them in their menus.


Schools also reported using funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's commodity program to purchase fruits and vegetables, although more reported using their commodity dollars for dairy, cheese and meat purchases.


As reauthorization of school lunch legislation approaches this fall, the association is lobbying for more government money to help schools pay for food costs. The price of a school lunch is going up in 60% of school districts, taking the number of students participating in the free and reduced meal program up with it.


More than 77% of respondents said funding and the cost of food and food preparation are the most pressing issues going into the new school year.


About 60% of districts included reported increases in the prices of a school lunch in order to pay for the increasing cost of food preparation. According to the association, schools receive a $2.57 reimbursement for each meal they provide free of charge, but it costs $2.92 to produce that meal. The association is backing a 35-cent increase in federal reimbursements for free meals in the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act.