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Research Project: Childhood Obesity Prevention

Location: Children's Nutrition Research Center

Title: Cafeteria staff perceptions of the new USDA school meal standards

Author
item Alcaraz, Brenda - University Of Texas Medical Branch
item Cullen, Karen - Children'S Nutrition Research Center (CNRC)

Submitted to: Journal of Child Nutrition and Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/1/2014
Publication Date: 11/1/2014
Citation: Alcaraz, B., Cullen, K.W. 2014. Cafeteria staff perceptions of the new USDA school meal standards. Journal of Child Nutrition and Management. 38(2):1-12.

Interpretive Summary: The new nutrition standards for school meal programs were implemented in 2012 and include more fruit, vegetables and whole grain foods. This study assessed the perceptions of 72 cafeteria staff in elementary and intermediate schools from a school district in the Houston, TX area about the new school food standards. More elementary staff than intermediate staff agreed that children like the vegetables served for school lunch and that they encouraged students to eat more fruits and vegetables (95% vs 77%). Significantly more elementary school foodservice staff reported that the reason "students know exactly what they want" was a barrier for food recommendations, and this was also the barrier that most intermediate staff chose. A combination of interventions, such as offering healthy food options, providing nutrition education, marketing healthy choices, verbally encouraging students to eat fruits and vegetables, and facilitating opportunities for students to try new healthy foods may be more effective in influencing student dietary patterns than any single intervention.

Technical Abstract: The new nutrition standards for the school meal programs implemented in 2012 align the school meal patterns with the US Dietary Guidelines for Americans, including more fruit, vegetable and whole grain offerings and minimum and maximum amount of calories per meal averaged over a week. The purpose of this study was to assess cafeteria staff perceptions about the new school food standards. Cafeteria staff (N=72) in 12 schools, 8 elementary (EL) and 4 intermediate (INT), from a school district in the Houston, TX area were surveyed. The school district had 37,000 students [59% White, 26% eligible for free/reduced price meals (FRP)]. Half of the EL and INT schools were low income schools based on eligibility for FRP meals (49-79% EL; approximately 34% INT). Frequencies were calculated for all variables by grade level (EL and INT). Chi square analysis was conducted to assess whether responses differed by grade level. The survey had a response rate of 100% (N=72) with different sample sizes per question. More EL staff than INT staff (71% vs 40%; p < 0.01) agreed that children like the vegetables served for school lunch and that they encouraged students to eat more fruits and vegetables (95% vs 77%; p < 0.05). Significantly more EL school foodservice staff (64% vs 43%; p < 0.01) reported that the reason "students know exactly what they want" was a barrier for food recommendations, and this was also the barrier that most INT staff chose. A combination of interventions, such as offering healthy food options, providing nutrition education, marketing healthy choices, verbally encouraging students to eat fruits and vegetables, and facilitating opportunities for students to try new healthy foods may be more effective in influencing student dietary patterns than any single intervention. The new nutrition standards for the school meal programs were implemented in 2012 and include more fruit, vegetables and whole grain foods. This study assessed the perceptions of 72 cafeteria staff in 8 elementary and 4 intermediate schools from a school district in the Houston, TX area about the new school food standards. More elementary staff than intermediate staff (71% vs 40% agreed that children like the vegetables served for school lunch and that they encouraged students to eat more fruits and vegetables (95% vs 77%). Significantly more elementary school foodservice staff (64% vs 43%) reported that the reason "students know exactly what they want" was a barrier for food recommendations, and this was also the barrier that most intermediate staff chose. A combination of interventions, such as offering healthy food options, providing nutrition education, marketing healthy choices, verbally encouraging students to eat fruits and vegetables, and facilitating opportunities for students to try new healthy foods may be more effective in influencing student dietary patterns than any single intervention.