School nutrition programs (SNP) provide much needed access to fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods at low or no cost. Yet, the infrastructure of school kitchens and cafeteria vary across schools, potentially contributing to systematic barriers for SNP operation and equity. The purpose of this paper is to examine the association between school infrastructure and outcomes including meal participation, untraditional lunch periods, and having an open campus. Regression analyses were conducted using administrative data for 1804 schools and school nutrition manager survey data (n = 821) in New York City (NYC). Co-location was significantly associated with open campus status (OR = 2.84, CI: 1.11, 7.26) and high school breakfast participation (β = -0.056, p = 0.003). Overcrowding was associated with breakfast (elementary: β = -0.046, p = 0.03; middle: β = 0.051, p = 0.04; high: β = 0.042, p = 0.04) and lunch participation (elementary: β = -0.031, p = 0.01) and untraditional lunchtimes (elementary: OR = 2.47, CI: 1.05, 5.83). Higher enrollment to cafeteria capacity ratios was associated with breakfast (elementary: β = -0.025, p = 0.02) and lunch (elementary: β = -0.015, p = 0.001; high: β = 0.014, p = 0.02) participation and untraditional lunchtimes (middle: OR = 1.66, CI: 1.03, 2.68). Infrastructure characteristics are an important source of variation across NYC schools that may hinder the equity of school nutrition programs across the city.
Keywords: cafeteria infrastructure; co-location; kitchen infrastructure; meal participation; open campus; overcrowding; school nutrition programs; untraditional lunch periods.