Start Date: November 2010

ID #: 68244

Principal Investigator: Markell Lewis, MPH

Organization: California Food Policy Advocates

Funding Round: Round 5

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It is important to examine how the national school meal programs, which feed roughly half the country’s school-age population every school day, can contribute to preventing childhood obesity. Although the USDA’s Child Nutrition Commodity Program offers many nutritious options to school districts, previous research has shown that schools primarily order foods high in fat that fail to meet standards set by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In addition, previously unexamined aspects of the commodity program may also affect the nutritional quality and cost of the school meal, such as the practice of diverting food to commercial food processors before delivery to schools. This study will identify policy opportunities to ensure that schools use commodity foods to offer the most nutritious meals at the lowest cost. The study will compare the nutrient profiles of commodity foods processed into heat-and-serve entrees with entrees prepared on site from minimally processed commodities (scratch cooked), identify cost differences between the two methods, and examine differences in the overall nutritional quality of menus served in districts using heat-and-serve versus scratch-cooked entrees. Working with 10 California school districts, the investigators will conduct nutrient analyses, an econometric cost analysis, key informant interviews, and a convening of experts and policy-makers for the presentation of the study’s findings and the development of policy recommendations.

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