Continued from page 1

More than half of the schools said they plan more “scratch” cooking, which may require more equipment, more space and potentially more expensive ingredients, according to the report.

“School meal program budgets are tight across the board. Equipment purchases are a real challenge because they’re big-ticket items. When the budget is tight and schools are encountering higher food costs, it can make those purchases more difficult,” said Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association, which represents more than 55,000 members providing school meals.

Backers of the program concede that there have been bumps in the road but say signs have been encouraging.

Of the 524 schools that have withdrawn from the federal lunch program, 90 said they did so specifically because of the new rules. Most of the rest did not give a reason.

The Agriculture Department also expects that some districts will have a tougher time than others.

“It’s important to remember that some schools weren’t as close to meeting the new standards and they may need a little more time for their students to fully embrace the new meals,” said Janey Thornton, deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services at the Agriculture Department. “That’s why it’s such a priority for us to continue to provide flexibility and help to schools as they work toward full implementation.”

Indeed, the federal government — sometimes with the prodding of Congress — has made several adjustments to its rules.

At the beginning of last year, for example, the Agriculture Department relaxed daily and weekly limits on meats and grains that some school officials said were too hard to follow.

In 2011, after the first draft of the standards was released, Congress prohibited the department from limiting potatoes and french fries.

Some lawmakers also fought to preserve cafeterias’ ability to serve frozen pizzas. The tomato paste on a frozen pizza now counts as a vegetable.