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Research Project: Childhood Obesity Prevention

Location: Children's Nutrition Research Center

Title: Middle school student perceptions of school lunch following revised federal school meal guidelines

Author
item Kjosen, Maria - Department Of Veterans Affairs
item Moore, Carolyn - Texas Woman'S University
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: 9/1/2015
Publication Date: 11/23/2015
Citation: Kjosen, M.M., Moore, C.E., Cullen, K.W. 2015. Middle school student perceptions of school lunch following revised federal school meal guidelines. Journal of Child Nutrition and Management. 39(2):1-11.

Interpretive Summary: There is concern that students may not like the new National School Lunch Program (NSLP) meal patterns. This study used anonymous surveys to assess perceptions of students in the 6th to 8th grade after the new federal regulations were implemented. Sixth graders reported greater satisfaction with the NSLP meal than other grades. Sixth graders, as well as boys, were more likely to report selecting and consuming fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Students from low-income schools and students who reported eating school lunch more frequently were more satisfied with staff attentiveness. The most popular reason for eating school lunch was "I am hungry". This study documents that satisfying all types of students in the NSLP is multifaceted and suggests the need for schools to engage students in ongoing evaluations of school meals, and to respond to identified concerns.

Technical Abstract: This study assessed student perceptions of school meals under the new federal meal patterns for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Student feedback is instrumental in developing strategies to increase and maintain NSLP participation, satisfaction, and ultimately provide students with a healthy meal. Anonymous questionnaires were completed by 1,867 6th to 8th grade students in the Houston, Texas area during Spring 2013. Analysis of variance was used to assess whether student perceptions about school meals, fruit/vegetables/whole grain consumption, and staff attentiveness varied by grade level, gender, school free/reduced price (FRP) meal eligibility, or frequency of eating school lunch. The top five reasons why participants choose to eat school lunch were also assessed. Sixth graders (p<.001) reported greater satisfaction with the NSLP meal than other grades, while students from schools with higher FRP eligibility reported less satisfaction (p<.001) than other schools. Sixth graders (p<.001), as well as boys (p=.015), were more likely to report selecting and consuming fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Students from schools with higher FRP eligibility (p<.001) and students who reported eating school lunch more frequently (p<.001) were more satisfied with staff attentiveness. The most popular reason for eating school lunch was "I am hungry". The least popular reasons for participating in the NSLP were "I get a balanced meal", and "It prepares me for after school activities". This study documents that satisfying all students receiving NSLP meals is multifaceted. Findings suggest the need for schools to engage students in ongoing evaluations of school meals, and to respond to identified concerns.