Improvements in School Lunches Result in Healthier Options for Millions of U.S. Children

Young girls enjoy a healthy lunch in their school cafeteria.

Researchers examine the changes elementary schools have made to student lunches over the last eight school years.



The Issue

As part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, updated nutrition standards for school meals went into effect at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year. This brief examines trends in elementary school lunches before those standards and in the first two years afterwards.

Key Findings

  • Elementary school lunches have been improving consistently since the 2006–07 school year, with more schools offering healthier items and fewer schools offering unhealthier items.

  • This trend has continued through the implementation of national standards in 2012–13, as the overwhelming majority of schools maintained or improved their offerings in the second year of implementation as compared with the first.


Together, these findings suggest that elementary schools are able to successfully offer healthier lunches to students and that the national standards are consistent with those efforts.

About the Grantee

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 affect diet, physical activity and obesity among youth, as well as youth tobacco use. For more information, visit and follow us on Twitter at