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Food choice, plate waste and nutrient intake of elementary- and middle-school students participating in the US National School Lunch Program

  • Stephanie L Smith (a1) and Leslie Cunningham-Sabo (a1)

Abstract

Objective

To (i) evaluate food choices and consumption patterns of elementary- and middle-school students who participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and (ii) compare students’ average nutrient intake from lunch with NSLP standards.

Design

Plate waste from elementary- and middle-school students’ lunch trays was measured in autumn 2010 using a previously validated digital photography method. Percentage waste was estimated to the nearest 10 % for the entrée, canned fruit, fresh fruit, vegetable, grain and milk. Univariate ANOVA determined differences in percentage waste between schools, grades and genders. Daily nutrient intake was calculated using the district's menu analysis and percentage waste.

Setting

Elementary and middle schools in northern Colorado (USA).

Subjects

Students, grades 1–8.

Results

Plate waste was estimated from 899 lunch trays; 535 elementary- and 364 middle-school students. Only 45 % of elementary- and 34 % middle-school students selected a vegetable. Elementary-school students wasted more than a third of grain, fruit and vegetable menu items. Middle-school students left nearly 50 % of fresh fruit, 37 % of canned fruit and nearly a third of vegetables unconsumed. Less than half of the students met the national meal standards for vitamins A and C, or Fe.

Conclusions

Few students’ lunch consumption met previous or new, strengthened NSLP lunch standards. Due to the relatively low intake of vegetables, intakes of vitamins A and C were of particular concern. Effective behavioural interventions, combined with marketing, communications and behavioural economics, will likely be necessary to encourage increased vegetable intake to meet the new meal standards.

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Copyright

Corresponding author

*Corresponding author: Email steph.smith@colostate.edu

References

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