Child Nutrition

Children’s Food Security and USDA Child Nutrition Programs

This report presents updated statistics on food insecurity among households with school-age children from the Food Security Supplement to the Current Population Survey for 2014 and 2015. It summarizes recent research on the effects of child nutrition programs on children’s food security and diets and discusses recent developments in nutrition assistance for school-age children (June 2017).

Nutrition Standards for Competitive Foods in Schools: Implications for Foodservice Revenues

This report examines U.S. students' competitive food selections, their contribution to school foodservice revenues, and how that contribution might change under more strict nutrition standards (June 2013). 

How Food Away From Home Affects Children's Diet Quality

This report examines how school food purchases—all foods, not only USDA reimbursable meals—and other food-away-from-home affect children's diet quality and calorie consumption. Both food from school and other "away" food sources lower the daily diet quality of older children (as measured by the 2005 Healthy Eating Index). Among younger children, who are more likely than older children to eat a USDA school meal and have a more healthful school food environment, the effect of school food on caloric intake and diet quality does not differ significantly from that of food from home (October 2010).

Diet Quality of School-Age Children in the U.S. and Association with Participation in the School Meal Programs

Using data from the third School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study (SNDA-III), this study found no significant differences in children's diet quality between school meal participants and nonparticipants. However, National School Lunch Program (NSLP) participation and School Breakfast Program (SBP) participation were both associated with significantly higher milk consumption, and NSLP participants scored significantly lower than nonparticipants on consumption of healthy oils (July 2010).

Children's Food Security and Intakes From School Meals

Children from food-insecure and marginally secure households receive a larger proportion of their food and nutrient intakes at school than do children from highly secure households due partially to higher participation rates of the insecure and marginally secure in school meal programs. Skipping breakfast was significantly more common among the food-insecure and marginally secure children; even at schools with breakfast programs, 20 percent of children from food-insecure and marginally secure households did not eat breakfast (May 2010).

National School Lunch Program

"USDA’s After-School Snack Program More Common in Elementary Schools in Poor Urban Areas," (Amber Waves) The number of snacks served through NSLP’s After-School Snack Program has grown since fiscal 2003. Despite this increase in the number of snacks provided, a recent study by ERS found that in 2010, only 27 percent of schools participating in NSLP offered the After-School Snack Program. These were primarily elementary schools with a high proportion of low-income students in urban, high-poverty districts (February 2016).

Economic Incentives to Supply Safe Chicken to the National School Lunch Program

This report examines the food safety performance of producers supplying raw chicken to the National School Lunch Program through the Agricultural Marketing Service to determine if reputation is enough incentive for producers to supply safe food (November 2015).

Economies of Scale, the Lunch-Breakfast Ratio, and the Cost of USDA School Breakfasts and Lunches

This study builds on previous ERS research by examining school breakfast and lunch costs separately to assess how economies of scale and the balance between the number of breakfasts and lunches served affect the costs to schools of providing the meals (November 2015).

School Meals in Transition

School food service programs are adjusting to a complex mix of changes mandated by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (August 2015).

The Food Safety Performance of Ground Beef Suppliers to the National School Lunch Program

The food safety of meals served in the Nation’s schools is a great concern for many Americans, particularly those with children in school, and ground beef is a major school food item. This report examines the food safety performance of suppliers of ground beef to the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) (December 2014).

Fruit and Vegetable Consumption by School Lunch Participants: Implications for the Success of New Nutrition Standards

School lunches have had to meet new nutrition standards since the fall of 2012. Using 2005 School Nutrition and Dietary Assessment data, this report examines whether students who attended schools serving more fruits and vegetables, in amounts that would meet the new standards, actually ate more fruits and vegetables than students in schools that did not (August 2013).

Effects of Immigration on WIC and NSLP Caseloads

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) have no eligibility restrictions based on the legal status of immigrants. This study reveals an increase in the number and share of immigrants and their children in WIC and NSLP between the mid-1990s and 2006; however, the share of immigrant participants is comparable to their share of the eligible population. Findings suggest that immigrants face fewer barriers to access in WIC and NSLP than they do for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and other benefits subject to immigration-related eligibility restrictions (October 2010).

"Balancing Nutrition, Participation, and Cost in the National School Lunch Program" (Amber Waves)

Schools face the dual constraints of meeting nutritional requirements and covering costs. At the same time, meals must appeal to children so that they will actually eat the foods that are served. This article explores how schools across America respond to these challenges (September 2008). 

The National School Lunch Program Background, Trends, and Issues

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is the Nation's second largest food and nutrition assistance program. In 2006, it operated in more than 101,000 public and nonprofit private schools and provided over 28 million low-cost or free lunches to children on a typical school day at a cost of $8 billion. The report provides background information on the NSLP, including historical trends and participant characteristics. It also addresses steps being taken to meet challenges facing program administrators, including tradeoffs between program access and program integrity (July 2008).

Program Access, Operations and Integrity

School Foodservice Costs: Location Matters

School food authorities (SFAs) must serve appealing, healthful meals while covering food, labor, and other operating costs. This challenge may be more difficult for some SFAs than for others because a nationally representative survey found that school costs per meal varied by geographic location. In the 2002-03 school year, SFAs in the Southwestern United States had, on average, consistently lower foodservice costs per meal than did SFAs in other regions. Urban locations had lower costs per meal than did their rural and suburban counterparts. Wage and benefit rates, food expenditures per meal, and SFA characteristics such as the mix of breakfasts and lunches served each contributed to the differences in foodservice costs per meal across locations (May 2011). 

Factors Associated With School Meal Participation and the Relationship Between Different Participation Measures

This study investigated factors that influence students' participation in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) using data from a large, nationally representative sample of students certified for free and reduced-price meals during the 2005-06 school year. Eligible elementary school students are more likely to participate than are middle or high school students. Also, students who like the taste of the meals are more likely to participate than are students who do not. The study cautions that parents' reports of student participation tend to overstate participation, which results in higher reported annual participation rates than from using administrative data (June 2009).

Plate Waste in School Nutrition Programs: Final Report to Congress

This report examines the level of plate waste in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and information on strategies to reduce it. Strategies examined include using the offer vs. serve provision for meal service, rescheduling lunch hours, improving the quality of food, tailoring serving sizes to student appetites, and providing nutrition education. (E-FAN-02-009), March 2002.

Improving Children's Diet and Health

"Eating Better at School: Can New Policies Improve Children's Food Choices?" (Amber Waves)

Since many children—especially low-income students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals—eat half their daily intake at school, the potential benefits from improved school meals and healthier competitive foods on school campuses could be considerable. Balancing nutrition, acceptance, and cost in school foodservice operations is a major challenge. Innovation by the food industry to develop and promote appealing, affordable, and healthier cafeteria fare may make the task easier. Behavioral economics studies suggest that, with a little nudging, kids are more likely to try healthier foods (September 2013). 

"When Nudging in the Lunch Line Might Be a Good Thing" (Amber Waves)

Schools can exert considerable control over the food choices they offer and the manner in which they are presented—the "choice architecture" in behavioral economic terms. Behavioral economic theory suggests several possibilities to structure school cafeteria environments in a non-coercive manner to encourage healthy choices (March 2009). 

Behavioral Economic Concepts To Encourage Healthy Eating in School Cafeterias: Experiments and Lessons From College Students

Changing small factors that influence consumer choices may lead to healthier eating within controlled settings, such as school cafeterias. This report describes a behavioral experiment in a college cafeteria to assess the effects of various payment options and menu selection methods on food choices. The results indicate that payment options, such as cash or debit cards, can significantly affect food choices (December 2008). 

School Breakfast Program

Improving Children's Diets, Growth, Development, Learning, and Health

The School Breakfast Program Participation and Impacts 

This report examines the determinants of participation in the School Breakfast Program among third grade public school students, as well as the impact of the program on food insecurity and skipping breakfast. Using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey-Kindergarten Cohort and from the Wisconsin Schools Food Security Survey, the study found that students are more likely to participate when breakfast is served in the classroom, when time available for breakfast in school is longer, and when they come from lower income or time-constrained households. Children with access to the School Breakfast Program are more likely to eat breakfast in the morning, and program access may enhance food security among families at the the margin of food insecurity (July 2009). 

USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program

Food Assistance Research Brief--The USDA Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program Evaluation

 A recent ERS study found this program was a popular strategy for getting kids to eat more fruits and vegetables. Many elementary and secondary school students who ate free snacks of fresh and dried fruits and fresh vegetables as part of USDA's Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program said they improved their eating habits and were more willing to try unfamiliar fruits and formerly disliked vegetables as a result of participating in the pilot. Funded for the 2002-03 school year at $6 million by the 2002 Farm Bill, the pilot program also was considered a success by school staff members who ran it. (FANRR-34-14), August 2003.