School Meals: Types of Foods Offered to and Consumed by Children at Lunch and Breakfast
Children's food intakes do not meet dietary recommendations. Meals offered through the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program make substantial contributions to school-aged children's diets. This article describes foods offered in school meals and consumed by children at lunch and breakfast, and differences in foods consumed by children who did and did not participate in the school meal programs. Data were collected as part of the third School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study, a cross-sectional, nationally representative study conducted in 2005. School menu surveys were used to identify the foods offered in school meals, and 24-hour dietary recalls were used to assess the foods children consumed. Foodservice managers in 398 public schools and 2,314 children (grades 1 to 12) from 287 of these schools participated in the study. Descriptive tabulations report percentages of daily menus that offered and percentages of children that consumed specific food groups and foods at lunch and breakfast. Two-tailed t tests were used to assess differences between school meal program participants and nonparticipants. Most school menus offered nonfat or 1% milk, fruit or 100% juice, and vegetables daily. Starchy vegetables were more common than dark green/orange vegetables or legumes. School lunch participants were significantly more likely than nonparticipants to consume milk, fruit, and vegetables, and significantly less likely to consume desserts, snack items, and beverages other than milk or 100% juice. At breakfast, participants were significantly more likely than nonparticipants to consume milk and fruit (mainly 100% juice), and significantly less likely to consume beverages other than milk or 100% juice. Consumption of school meals is positively related to children's intakes of key food groups at lunch and breakfast. Offering more fresh fruit, whole grains, and a greater variety of vegetables could lead to additional health benefits.