Revised Federal School Meal Guidelines: Impact on Student Food Intake and Costs School meals are an important influence on children's diets and should meet children's nutrient needs while fostering healthy eating habits that enable them to maintain energy balance. Recent national data revealed that students consumed low intakes of foods that support healthy dietary patterns (whole grains, fruit and vegetables other than potatoes), but high intakes of low nutrient, energy dense foods at school. The USDA has minimum standards for calories and specific nutrients in school meals, but these were last updated in 1995. The 2009 USDA-commissioned Institute of Medicine (IOM) report provided new recommendations that include new meal pattern requirements for the meals programs, aligning them with the U.S. Dietary Guidelines to ensure that the meals promote health and reduce inadequate and excessive intakes. The report recommended a minimum and maximum amount of calories/meal for the first time, and more whole grains, fruit, and vegetables, which will likely increase meal costs. The 2010 White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report urged the USDA to adopt these IOM recommendations and increase meal reimbursements to support the costs for the healthier foods in these new meal pattern requirements. Two of the IOM report recommendations call for research to better understand how the new meal requirements would change children's school meal dietary intakes and food service costs. These are important questions, and answers are needed to inform policy and future technical and educational assistance needs. Thus, the overall objective of this R01 grant application is to implement the IOM new meal pattern requirements for school meals in a large suburban school district in 6 schools (3 low and 3 middle income) for an entire school year.
The specific aims are to assess the impact of the new meal pattern requirements on 1) meal participation rates, 2) school food service costs (food, labor, total meal), and 3) student dietary intake at school. We hypothesize that, compared with control schools;intervention school students will select and consume healthier diets (more fruit, vegetables and whole grains) at school. We also hypothesize that the increase in breakfast and lunch food costs will be less than that projected in the report. The results on the costs associated with creating the desired school meals will be very important as these data have not been systematically collected in previous studies, and we will use an electronic school foodservice software system for this task. This significant study will inform policy on the influence of a healthy school food environment on student diet, as well as provide critical information on costs, the major barrier to adoption and implementation.
This application will implement the new IOM meal pattern requirements for school meals promoting whole grain, fruit and vegetables in a school district. Outcomes from this study will identify what changes in student dietary behaviors occur at school as a result of the new meal patterns, identify the financial impact on the meal cost, and inform policy.