Perceived Reactions of Elementary School Students to Changes in School Lunches After Implementation of the United States Department of Agriculture's New Meals Standards

Young girls enjoy a healthy lunch in their school cafeteria.

School leaders report widespread student acceptance of new healthier lunches offered after USDA improves nutrition standards.

The Issue:

This is the first national study to examine the perceptions of school leaders regarding student reactions to the new healthier lunches offered after the United States Department of Agriculture implemented updated nutrition standards for school meals in the 2012–2013 school year.   

Key Findings

  • In spring 2013, 70 percent of elementary school leaders nationwide reported that students generally liked the healthier school lunches.

  • More than half of respondents (56.4%) reported that students complained at first, but student acceptance greatly increased by spring 2013.

  • Respondents at elementary schools with more students from lower-income families reported increases in student purchasing, compared with decreases reported from higher-SES schools.

  • Respondents did not perceive much change in the amount of food students were discarding.

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Our studies show that kids are okay with these changes, and that there have not been widespread challenges with kids not buying or eating the meals.

Lindsey Turner, Co-investigator Bridging the Gap


The perceived reactions to the new meal standards were met with minimal backlash. Future studies should consider objectively measured data.  

About the Study:

Five-hundred fifty seven elementary schools participating in the National School Lunch Program completed mail-back surveys in the second half of the 2012–2013 school year. Administrators and food service personnel answered questions regarding students’ purchasing, consumption, and attitudes towards the new meals.