Objective: We compared elementary students' school lunches selected and consumed before (Spring, 2011) and after (Spring, 2013) implementation of the new National School Lunch Program meal patterns in the fall of 2012.
Method: Students in eight elementary schools in one Southeast Texas school district were observed during lunch: foods selected/consumed were recorded. The percentage of students who selected each food group was compared between years, as were the differences in consumption and the percent of food consumed by year, for students who selected the food group. All analyses controlled for student gender and grade and school free/reduced price meal status.
Results: Observations were conducted for 472 (2011) and 573 (2013) students. Significantly more 2013 students selected fruit, 100% juice, total fruit + 100% juice, other vegetables, whole grains, protein foods and milk, but fewer selected starchy vegetables. For those students selecting them, significantly more total fruit + 100% juice and red orange vegetables, but significantly less other vegetables, legumes, and protein foods were consumed. There were no differences in waste of fruit, whole grains, or vegetables, with the exception of legumes. More legumes were wasted in 2013 than 2011.
Conclusion: The findings that students had similar consumption rates for fruit, whole grains, and most vegetables in this study are encouraging. Regular monitoring of student food selection and consumption at school is needed to assess whether the new meal patterns improve intake at school.
Keywords: children; lunch consumption; school; school lunch meal patterns.