Background: Concerns about the diets of school-aged children and new nutrition recommendations for the US population have increased interest in the nutritional quality of meals available through the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.
Objective: This article updates national estimates of the food energy and nutrient content of school meals and compares these estimates to federal nutrient standards established under the 1995 School Meals Initiative for Healthy Children.
Design: Data were collected as part of the third School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study, a nationally representative cross-sectional study fielded during school year 2004-2005. Menu and recipe data for a typical school week were collected in a mail survey with telephone assistance. Nutrient information for common commercially prepared food items was obtained from manufacturers, to supplement the Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies used to analyze the data. Analyses were conducted for meals offered and meals served to (selected by) children.
Subjects/setting: Samples of 130 public school districts that offered federally subsidized school meals, and 398 schools within those districts, participated in the study. Foodservice managers in each school completed a menu survey.
Statistical analyses performed: Descriptive tabulations present weighted means, proportions, and standard errors for elementary, middle, and high schools, and for all schools combined.
Results: Most schools offered and served meals that met the standards for protein, vitamins, and minerals. Fewer than one third of schools met the standards for energy from fat or saturated fat in the average lunch, whereas three fourths or more met the fat standards in school breakfasts. For both meals, average levels of sodium were high and fiber was low relative to Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 recommendations.
Conclusions: For school meals to meet nutrient standards and promote eating behaviors consistent with the Dietary Guidelines, future policy, practice, and research should focus on reducing levels of fat and sodium and increasing fiber.