Improving School Foods Through the Team Nutrition Program

This brief, prepared on behalf of RWJF's Bridging the Gap program, examines participation in the Team Nutrition program among U.S. elementary schools for four school years, from 2006-07 to 2009-10.

Team Nutrition is an initiative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service. Schools that enroll in Team Nutrition commit to make nutrition changes throughout the school and conduct nutrition education.

Researcher's found that the USDA's Team Nutrition program has strong potential to help improve children’s eating habits. Elementary schools that participate in Team Nutrition are more likely to offer healthier foods—and less likely to offer unhealthy foods—at lunch. According to a nationally representative survey of school food service managers during the 2009–10 school year, schools that had access to Team Nutrition resources were more likely to offer fresh fruit, whole grains or salads and less likely to offer salty snacks or baked goods, such as cookies, cakes and pastries.

The study also shows the need for continued efforts to improve the nutritional quality of lunches served in all elementary schools. During the 2009–10 school year, high-fat milks and unhealthy snacks were widely available at lunch, while fewer than one-quarter of elementary schools regularly offered whole-grain products.

The authors note that resources available through Team Nutrition can help school personnel serve healthy, appealing meals and meet updated nutrition standards, such as those called for by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

Bridging the Gap is a nationally recognized research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation dedicated to improving the understanding of how policies and environmental factors influence diet, physical activity and obesity among youths, as well as youth tobacco use.