Can School Lunches Deliver Better Nutrition Without Sacrificing Palatability? An Evaluation of Nutritional Adequacy of School Lunches in Urban Washington State
Reid, Diana L.
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Background: USDA's National School Lunch Program (NSLP) was established in 1946 to deliver balanced nutrition for children at risk for under-nutrition; however, in recent years these same meals have been associated with over-nutrition and increased risk for childhood obesity. Changes to federal meal standards made in 2013 stand to improve the overall quality and nutritional adequacy of school meals, yet significant gaps exist between federal meal standards and actual implementation across all levels of participating schools. Objectives: The aims of this study are to 1) Review annual trends in nutritional adequacy, 2) Describe the relative contribution of six key nutrients to the nutritional quality of school lunches, 3) Describe which foods and food patterns are most closely associated with measures of nutritional adequacy, and 4) Provide a set of recommendations that school districts can use in planning meals, to ensure maximum nutrient density and optimal student health outcomes. Methods: This study utilized data collected from six schools in an urban school district in Washington State, prior to the implementation of new federal meal regulations. School meal recipe data, daily lunch counts and detailed nutritional data were analyzed using Microsoft Excel for Macintosh 2011 to assess nutrient composition and nutritional adequacy as compared to federal requirements. Results: This district did not meet NSLP guidelines during the study period. Protein and calcium were served in adequate amounts, but most other key nutrients were lacking. Frequent provision of low nutrient density items are contributing to overall lower nutritional quality of district meals. Opportunity exists to improve the nutritional adequacy of daily lunches by altering the meal pattern in the areas of menu composition, menu choice and item frequency.
- Nutritional sciences