Discrepancies Among Student School Lunch Preferences, Menu Options, and Consumption Patterns in a Low-Income Northern California High-School
USDA Nutrient Standard Menu Planning option, one of two National School Lunch Program options for school meal planning, has no requirements for fruit/vegetable servings and enables foodservice to serve nutrient-poor foods while remaining compliant with nutrition requirements. The objective of this research was to compare student reported preferences, meals offered, and meals selected over nine days. A preference survey was administered to 151 ninth grade students attending a low-income northern California high school. School lunch observations were conducted daily for an average of 418 to 584 students by trained researchers. Observation data demonstrated that 66% of students chose no servings of fruit or vegetables over the nine day period. In addition, 37% consistently selected the same one or two meals out of the 32 meals offered daily over a five day period. There was a discrepancy between reported meal preferences and observed meal selections. While 10% selected pizza as their most preferred entrée, pizza comprised almost 30% of all daily entrée sales. This discrepancy is possibly due to the increased availability of pizza and/or limited availability of the more preferred entrees that either contain or are served with a fruit/vegetable. Findings indicate that a significant proportion of students may complete high school without ever selecting a serving of fruit or vegetables. A considerable gap between available food items and student preferences resulted in nutrient-poor food selection practices among 9th graders.