Meals Offered and Served in US Public Schools

Little progress has been made toward reducing unhealthy levels of total fat and saturated fat in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-sponsored school meals. The majority of school lunches meet standards for energy intake.

The Dietary Guidelines For Americans 2005 formalized standards for minimum levels of key nutrients and established benchmarks for fat and saturated fat in school meals. The third School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study (SNDA-III) updates past investigations into the nutrient content of school meals. Researchers mailed menu surveys to school food service administrators. When appropriate, coders created recipe modifications to account for discrepancies between menu items and items in the USDA food and nutrient database. To adjust for menu-planning systems and monitoring practices in place, the study used both unweighted and weighted nutrient analyses.

Key Findings:

  • Between 20 percent and 30 percent of school lunches meet SMI standards for energy derived from total fat and saturated fat respectively.
  • Combination entrées (i.e., fast-food like items) contributed most of the total fat, saturated fat and sodium present in school lunches.
  • School meals generally met SMI requirements for protein, vitamins and minerals.

This article includes background on the history of public policy since the first School Nutrition Dietary Assessment (SNDA-I) conducted in 1993.