School Meals

Types of Foods Offered to and Consumed by Children at Lunch and Breakfast

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP) offer students a selection of healthful items. However, availability of beneficial foods alone may not be sufficient to guide children to better eating habits. 

This article suggests an approach to fortifying the presence of certain food groups within NSLP and SBP. Data from the third School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study (SNDA-III) was used to calculate the proportion of NSLP and SBP participants and nonparticipants who reported consuming various school menu offerings. A food grouping system of nine major groups and over 100 minor subgroups was created. Complete food items were not broken down into constituent ingredients. Researchers tabulated data for all schools combined and separately for school levels.

Key Findings:

  • The percentage of schoolchildren drinking milk decreased from elementary school to middle school and from middle school to high school.
  • NSLP participants were significantly less likely than nonparticipants to consume desserts and snack foods at lunch.
  • Less than 5 percent of menus offer whole grain options. Very few students consume the most nutritious types of vegetables. 

Schools should work directly with nutritionists and registered dietitians to develop menus that meet nutrient requirements and include healthy foods that students will enjoy eating.