Assessing how middle school students' nutrient intake varies based on the availability of a la carte offerings at lunch

Samantha Weiss, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Purpose: School districts in the U.S. regularly offer foods that compete with the USDA reimbursable meal, known as `a la carte' foods. These foods must adhere to state nutritional regulations; however, the implementation of these regulations often differs across districts. The purpose of this study is to compare two methods of offering a la carte foods on student's lunch intake: 1) an extensive a la carte program in which schools have a separate area for a la carte food sales, that includes non-reimbursable entrees; and 2) a moderate a la carte program, which offers the sale of a la carte foods on the same serving line with reimbursable meals. Methods: Direct observation was used to assess children's lunch consumption in six schools, across two districts in Central Texas (n=373 observations). Schools were matched on socioeconomic status. Data collectors were randomly assigned to students, and recorded foods obtained, foods consumed, source of food, gender, grade, and ethnicity. Observations were entered into a nutrient database program, FIAS Millennium Edition, to obtain nutritional information. Differences in energy and nutrient intake across lunch sources and districts were assessed using ANOVA and independent t-tests. A linear regression model was applied to control for potential confounders. Results: Students at schools with extensive a la carte programs consumed significantly more calories, carbohydrates, total fat, saturated fat, calcium, and sodium compared to students in schools with moderate a la carte offerings (p<.05). Students in the extensive a la carte program consumed approximately 94 calories more than students in the moderate a la carte program. There was no significant difference in the energy consumption in students who consumed any amount of a la carte compared to students who consumed none. In both districts, students who consumed a la carte offerings were more likely to consume sugar-sweetened beverages, sweets, chips, and pizza compared to students who consumed no a la carte foods. Conclusion: The amount, type and method of offering a la carte foods can significantly affect student dietary intake. This pilot study indicates that when a la carte foods are more available, students consume more calories. Findings underscore the need for further investigation on how availability of a la carte foods affects children's diets. Guidelines for school a la carte offerings should be maximized to encourage the consumption of healthful foods and appropriate energy intake.

Subject Area

Middle School education|Nutrition

Recommended Citation

Weiss, Samantha, "Assessing how middle school students' nutrient intake varies based on the availability of a la carte offerings at lunch" (2012). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI1516684.