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The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) reaches over 30.4 million children every school day and can provide roughly one-third of a child's daily energy intake. Understanding the relationship between student characteristics and meal component selection and consumption is critical to mitigating food waste and improving children's eating behaviors.
To examine the prevalence of key systems factors, such as time available for lunch and recess timing, and the impact of demographic factors on meal component selection and consumption among children in rural and urban school districts in Illinois.
Study Design, Settings, Participants
This cross-sectional study examined meal component selection and consumption at four schools throughout central and southern Illinois participating in the NSLP. Selection and consumption data of Kindergarten through 8th-grade students (n = 302) were collected once per school using visual observation to assess selection and individual direct weighing to assess consumption.
Descriptive statistics and t-tests were used to characterize the study sample and investigate relationships between gender, meal component selection, and consumption.
Study participants were 55% male and 45% female. All schools had recess after lunch periods, except for one kindergarten class, with an average lunch period lasting 24 minutes. Sixty percent of the schools implemented offer vs. serve. Sixty-seven percent of the sample selected flavored milk over white milk; however, gender was not significantly associated with flavored milk selection nor milk consumption (P = .46 and .16, respectively). Differences in flavored and white milk consumption were assessed (mean = 187.6 and 148.4 ml, respectively), and participants consumed significantly more flavored milk (P < .001).
An in-depth understanding of factors relating to children's choices and eating behaviors in the school setting can inform cost-effective school nutrition interventions. Results from this study indicate that interventions can be designed to influence more healthful selection or encourage consumption that minimizes food waste.
© 2019 Published by Elsevier Inc.