Aim: The aim of this study was to investigate whether a free school meal every day was associated with children's intake of healthy food during school.
Methods: A non-randomized study design with an intervention and a control group was used to measure change in children's meal habits at lunchtime. In total, 164 children participated; 55 in the intervention group and 109 in the control group. Children in the intervention group were served a free, healthy school meal every school day. Participating children completed a questionnaire at baseline and at 6 months' follow up. Possible associations were evaluated with a healthy food score, which was calculated based on a food frequency questionnaire on lunch habits at school. Chi-square and Independent Samples t-test were used to analyse the data.
Results: At baseline, there was no significant difference in the healthy food score between the intervention and the control group ( p = 0.08). Children in the intervention group increased their healthy food score significantly compared with children in the control group after 6 months ( p ⩽ 0.01). Change in the healthy food score was mainly due to an increase in the intake of fruit ( p ⩽ 0.01), vegetables ( p ⩽ 0.01) and fish spread ( p = 0.02); all in favour of the intervention group.
Conclusions: A serving of a free school meal every day for 6 months increased children's intake of healthy food at lunchtime compared with the control group. Further studies are needed to establish possible long-term effects.
Keywords: Norway; School meal (meal provided at school); healthy food score; intervention; packed lunch; school children.