More School Lunches Going Vegetarian

Filed under: Nutrition: Health, In The News, Nutrition: Big Kids, Research Reveals: Big Kids, Nutrition: Tweens, Research Reveals: Tweens, Nutrition: Teens, Research Reveals: Teens

school lunch

Schools are serving more vegetarian options. Credit: Siege N. Gin, Flickr

Move over, soggy pizza and deep-fried mystery meat -- a new study from the School Nutrition Association says that two out of every three school cafeterias are dishing up vegetarian options on a regular basis, a 40 percent increase since 2003.

Schools across the nation are offering kids healthy entrees,
like vegetable burritos, pasta with lentil sauce and veggie stir-fry over rice. And according to our sister site, That's Fit, the healthy choices don't end there. Students can also chow down on desserts made with healthy ingredients, such as low-fat fruit crumbles, blueberry muffins and even black-bean brownies.

At Rockdale County Public Schools just outside Atlanta, Ga., even the hamburger and hot-dog buns are made on site using whole wheat flour, according to U.S. News & World Report.

But don't get too excited -- at the same time that schools are working harder to offer healthier options, the economy is making it more difficult than ever to meet those goals. More than 77 percent of the 1,200 food-service directors surveyed said that the cost of food and the overall economy are the most pressing issues they face. When the economy is bad, more students meet the standard for subsidized meals, placing a heavy financial burden on schools with a high poverty rate.

Nearly 60 percent of districts surveyed have raised their school-lunch prices this year to keep up with the cost of preparation, and some experts say that the federal subsidy would need to increase to as much as $4 or $5 per lunch to really allow school cafeterias to go healthy.

In fact, the government's School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study found that 80 percent of schools don't even comply with the federal guidelines for school lunches, and kids are still consuming a lot of high-fat food at school, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial by dietitian Kathryn Strong.

Good-faith efforts like those made by the Rockdale County Public Schools should be lauded, but there's a long way to go before anyone can declare a health-food revolution in school cafeterias -- especially considering that 16 percent of children between the ages 6 to 19 are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Does your child's school offer healthy choice? Should the government give more funding to help make school lunches more nutritious?

Read more about school lunches on AOL Food.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.