Student consumption of a la carte foods during school lunch meals

Madeline Nicole Estep, The University of Texas School of Public Health


The purpose of this study was to evaluate students' lunch consumption compared to NSLP guidelines, the contribution of competitive foods to calorie intake at lunch, and the differences in nutrient and food group intake between the a la carte food consumers and non- a la carte food consumers. In Fall 2011, 1170 elementary and 440 intermediate students were observed anonymously during school lunch. The foods eaten, their source, grade level, and gender were recorded. All a la carte offerings met the Texas School Nutrition Policy. Differences in nutrient and food group intake by grade level and between students who consumed a la carte and those who did not were assessed using ANCOVA. A chi-squared analysis was conducted to evaluate differences in a la carte food consumption by grade level, gender, and the school's low income status. Average lunch intakes for elementary students were 457 (SD 164) calories for elementary students and 541 calories (SD 188) for intermediate students (p<0.001). 760 students (47%) consumed 937 a la carte foods, with the most often consumed items being chips (32%), ice cream (22%) and snack items (18%). Mean a la carte food intakes were 60 and 98 calories for elementary and intermediate schools respectively (p<0.001). Significantly more (p<0.000) intermediate students (34.3%) consumed a la carte items compared to elementary students (27.5%). Students who consumed a la carte foods had significantly higher intakes of calories (p<0.000), fat (p<0.000), sodium (p<0.002), fiber (p<0.000), added sugar (p<0.000), total grains (p<0.000), dessert foods (p<0.000), and snack chips (p<0.000) and lower intakes of vitamin A (p<0.001), iron (p<0.000), fruit (p<0.022), vegetables (p<0.031), milk (p<0.000), and juice (p<0.000) compared to students who did not eat a la carte foods. Although previous studies have found that reducing availability of unhealthy items at school decreased student consumption of these items, the results of this study indicate that even the strict guidelines set forth by the state of Texas are not sufficient to prevent increased caloric intake and poor nutrient intake. Strategies to improve student selection and consumption at school lunch when a la carte foods are available are warranted.

Subject Area

Nutrition|Public health|Public policy

Recommended Citation

Estep, Madeline Nicole, "Student consumption of a la carte foods during school lunch meals" (2013). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI1541109.