Published: October 2021

Journal: Nutrients

Authors: Cohen JFW, Hecht AA, Hager ER, Turner L, Burkholder K, Schwartz MB

See more related research

Share


This systematic review evaluates studies examining initiatives, interventions, and policies to increase school meal consumption. Following PRISMA guidelines, this review was conducted using four databases and resulted in a total of 96 studies. The research evidence supports the following strategies to increase school meal consumption: (1) offering students more menu choices; (2) adapting recipes to improve the palatability and/or cultural appropriateness of foods; (3) providing pre-sliced fruits; (4) rewarding students who try fruits and vegetables; (5) enabling students to have sufficient time to eat with longer (~30 min) lunch periods; (6) having recess before lunch; and (7) limiting students’ access to competitive foods during the school day. Research findings were mixed when examining the impact of nutrition education and/or offering taste tests to students, although multiple benefits for nutrition education outside the cafeteria were documented. There is some evidence that choice architecture (i.e., “Smarter Lunchroom”) techniques increase the proportion of students who select targeted meal components; however, there is not evidence that these techniques alone increase consumption. There were limited studies of the impact of increasing portion sizes; serving vegetables before other meal components; and strengthening local district and/or school wellness policies, suggesting that further research is necessary. Additionally, longer-term studies are needed to understand the impact of policies that limit students’ access to flavored milk. Several studies found increases in students’ meal consumption following the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) and concerns regarding an increase in food waste following the HHFKA were not supported. Overall, there are a range of effective strategies to increase school meal consumption that can be implemented by schools, districts, and policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels.

Related Research

November 2021

Rural Schools: Challenges and Opportunities for School Meal Programs

Children and adolescents living in rural communities are at increased risk of obesity and food insecurity. Schools can play an essential role in addressing diet-related disparities, but multiple factors can impact the cafeteria environment and student participation in school meal programs. School nutrition professionals face unique challenges in meal operations. To develop solutions to these More

October 2021

Promising and Low-Cost Strategies to Improve School Meal Consumption

The aim of this research brief is to highlight and summarize the evidence of promising, low-maintenance, and low-cost strategies that can be implemented by school districts to increase the consumption of healthy school meals. All of these strategies have been associated with meaningful improvements in meal consumption and require minimal funding and technical support, making More

August 2021

Prevalence of Evidence-Based School Meal Practices and Associations with Reported Food Waste across a National Sample of U.S. Elementary Schools

Providing meals at school is an important part of the hunger safety net for children in the United States and worldwide; however, many children do not receive school meals even when they qualify for federally-subsidized free or reduced-priced meals. This study investigates the prevalence of several evidence-based practices that have previously been shown to increase More