The costs and calorie content of à la carte food items purchased by students during school lunch

Prev Med Rep. 2018 Mar 13;10:162-166. doi: 10.1016/j.pmedr.2018.03.004. eCollection 2018 Jun.

Abstract

School environments influence student food choices. À la carte foods and beverages are often low nutrient and energy dense. This study assessed how much money students spent for these foods, and the total kilocalories purchased per student during the 2012-2013 school year. Six elementary and four intermediate schools in the Houston area provided daily food purchase transaction data, and the cost and the calories for each item. Chi-square analysis assessed differences in the number of students purchasing à la carte items by grade level and school free/reduced-price meal (FRP) eligibility. Analysis of covariance assessed grade level differences in cost and calories of weekly purchases, controlling for FRP eligibility. Intermediate grade students spent significantly more on à la carte food purchases and purchased more calories (both p < 0.001) than elementary school students. Lower socioeconomic status (SES) elementary and intermediate school students purchased fewer à la carte foods compared to those in higher SES schools (p < 0.001). Intermediate school students purchased more à la carte foods and calories from à la carte foods than elementary students. Whether the new competitive food rules in schools improve student food selection and purchase, and dietary intake habits across all grade levels remains unknown.

Keywords: Calories; Competitive foods; Costs; Elementary schools; Intermediate schools; National School Lunch Program; À la carte foods.