Summary of Findings
One | Chapter
Two | Chapter
Three | Chapter
Four | Chapter
Five | Chapter
- Thirty-four percent of schools included in this study provided
the last student in the lunch line with only 10 minutes or less to
eat his or her lunch.
- The average time between the last student in line receiving his
or her lunch and the end of the lunch period was 13 minutes. This
did not vary significantly by level of school. .
- As opportunity time to eat decreased, students, cafeteria staff,
and lunch monitors were significantly more likely to report that
students had insufficient time to buy and eat their lunches. .
- When asked what they did when they did not have enough time to
buy and eat lunch, students reported buying à la carte snacks,
eating from vending machines, bringing lunch from home, skipping
lunch entirely, or buying lunch and throwing away a large portion.
- In order to accommodate the entire student body, some large schools
scheduled as many as seven lunch periods, and these lunches started
as early as 9:25 a.m. Fifty percent of the middle and high schools
included in this study scheduled the first lunch period before 11:00
a.m., despite national recommendations that school lunches not begin
before this hour.
- Providing students with constructive activities at the end of lunch
can allow for longer lunch periods without increasing behavioral
- Decreasing wait in line by adding extra serving lines or overlapping
lunch waves can allow more students to be served more quickly and
can reduce the discrepancy in opportunity time to eat between the
first student in line and the last.
- Ninety-five percent of the schools in this study participated in
the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). n At the schools in this
study that participated in the NSLP, an average of 53 percent of
students bought a lunch on a typical day.
- Student participation in the NSLP was found to decrease with increasing
school level. In elementary schools, an average of 59 percent of
students bought a qualifying lunch on a typical day. This value dropped
to 54 percent in middle schools, and 44 percent in high schools.
- Most school districts in this study provided little or no financial
support to the food service program. The majority of food service
programs were nearly one hundred percent financially self-supporting,
aside from the subsidies and commodities provided by the NSLP. This
means that the money made from selling school lunches and other foods
must pay not only for the food itself, but also for staff salaries,
benefits, staff training, and kitchen equipment.
- Some school districts concentrated more than others on encouraging
students to eat lunches containing all of the required components.
This is important, as fruit and vegetable components are those most
commonly ignored. Focus on fruit and vegetable consumption did not
appear to be related to either school level or Economic Reference
Group (ERG). In fact, one of the districts that appeared to be most
focused on encouraging students to eat the fruit and vegetable lunch
components was in the lowest ERG. This suggests that with a commitment
from the food service staff and administration, all schools can provide
students with nutritious lunches, including appealing fruits and
- Food service directors and cafeteria managers reported that, on
average, 32 percent of their food came from the federal government
- At 63 percent of the schools visited, food service directors or
cafeteria managers reported that the commodities they received helped
them to provide healthy lunches.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables are currently not available to school
food service programs through the federal commodities program. A
majority of food service directors and cafeteria managers, including
those who felt strongly that the commodities helped them provide
healthy lunches, reported this to be a significant gap in the federal
- Oil-fried French fries were so popular at many schools that some
lunch monitors reported students buying lunches for the fries only,
and throwing everything else away.
- Food service directors and cafeteria managers who participated
in “Farm-to-School” programs reported that these programs
were very successful. The most commonly mentioned programs were those
featuring fresh Connecticut apples.
- School food service programs often sell a variety of foods and
beverages during lunchtime in addition to the reimbursable meals
offered as part of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Compared
to NSLP lunches, which are required to meet federally regulated nutrition
standards, competitive foods are relatively low in nutrient density
and high in fat, added sugars, and calories.
- In the study, the most common foods sold in competition with the
reimbursable lunches were ice cream, cookies, potato chips, sweetened
beverages, water, and prepackaged baked goods such as donuts, cupcakes,
and honey buns.
- While the federal government prohibits the sale of “foods
of minimal nutritional value” and the State of Connecticut
prohibits the sale of “extra foods,” these regulations
do not restrict the sale of many higher-fat and/or higher-sugar snack
items, such as potato chips, cookies, prepackaged baked goods, French
fries, or sweetened beverages.
- Many food service directors and cafeteria managers argue that without
the competitive food sales, they could not afford to run their programs.
Since school districts rarely provide significant financial support
for these programs, they cannot simply cut off this source of revenue,
even if that revenue source is negatively impacting student health.
- While some elementary schools have rules that prohibit the purchase
of competitive foods instead of lunch, this was rarely the case at
the middle or high school level. In fact, at 92 percent of the middle
and high schools in this study, there were no rules whatsoever restricting
the purchase of competitive foods either from the à la carte
service or from the cafeteria-run vending machines.
- The quantity of foods sold in competition with the NSLP lunches
was found to differ by school level. Competitive foods were available à la
carte in 100 percent of the high schools included in this study and
were available in cafeteriarun vending machines in 63 percent of
those schools. All middle schools sold à la carte items, and
45 percent had cafeteria-operated vending machines. Seventy-eight
percent of elementary schools sold foods à la carte, but only
22 percent provided cafeteria-operated vending machines.
- Food service directors reported that 19 percent of elementary students,
47 percent of middle school students, and 57 percent of high school
students purchased a competitive food item on a typical day.
- At the elementary school level, 29 percent of the directors or
managers felt that they were somewhat or completely dependent on
the income from competitive food sales to support the school lunch
program. This value rose to 70 percent in middle schools, and to
80 percent in high schools.
- Despite these fiscal concerns, the abundance of higher-fat, higher-sugar,
and lower-nutrient competitive foods is not healthy. It conveys to
children a poor message about nutrition, and may encourage students
to choose competitive foods over nutritionally balanced meals.
- By incorporating à la carte items into NSLP qualifying meals
and by increasing the nutritional quality of all the competitive
food items offered, schools can improve their nutritional environment.
- At 80 percent of the schools in this study, opportunities to eat
and drink were not limited to the cafeteria during lunchtime. In
fact, students in many schools had access to a variety of food and
beverage items throughout the day.
- Food and beverage items were available outside of the cafeteria
food service program from many alternate sources, including school-operated
vending machines, stores, classroom parties, fundraisers, and food
offered to students as rewards for either academic achievement or
- There are no nutritional constraints or restrictions whatsoever
on foods or beverages available outside of the cafeteria food service
program. Federal and State nutrition requirements apply only to the
National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, and, to a lesser extent,
other foods and beverages sold during and around lunchtime.
- School-operated vending machines were available at 81 percent of
the high schools in this study, and as many as 15 school-run vending
machines were observed in a single school. n Vending machines were
operated by particular departments, such as the athletic or foreign
language department, by student organizations, such as the Future
Business Leaders of America, or by the school administration.
- Soda was the most commonly available item in school-run vending
machines. It was offered in 69 percent of the high schools in this
- Sixty-nine percent of the high schools in this study had a school
store on the premises where the merchandise included food or beverage
items. The most commonly offered foods and beverages reported at
school stores were soda, candy, cookies, and potato chips, all of
which are high in fat and/or sugar.
- High school stores were most often run by student organizations,
such as the Future Business Leaders of America or the Junior ROTC.
n Just five of the twenty-three middle and K-8 schools in this study
operated vending machines, and no elementary schools contained non-cafeteria
operated vending machines.
- Just three of the forty elementary and middle schools in this study
operated a store that sold food or beverage items. These three stores
were operated by student groups such as the student council, and
sold items such as candy, granola bars, potato chips, and soda.
- Sixty-one percent of the administrators interviewed in this study
reported that their school participated in some type of food-based
- Many of the foods sold for fundraisers, such as candy bars and
lollipops, were available on a relatively regular basis, and were
often consumed by students in school.
- Over a third of the students in this study reported that they usually
came to school without having eaten breakfast. Students who do not
eat breakfast often come to school hungry, and may purchase something
to eat at school. If the school provides vending machines or school
stores stocked with candy and sodas, this is likely to be what the
student will choose to eat.
- Just 46 percent of the food service programs at schools in this
study provided students with a breakfast option.
- The U.S. Department of Education recommends that elementary schools
provide at least 50 hours of nutrition education per year in order
to impact children's eating behavior.
- Elementary school teachers participating in this study reported
that students in their schools received an average of 3 hours of
nutrition education per year, with a range of 0 to 5 hours.
- Middle school teachers participating in this study reported that
students in their schools received an average of 6 hours of nutrition
education per year, with a range of 0 to 30 hours.
- High school teachers participating in this study reported that
students in their schools received an average of 3 hours of nutrition
education per year, with a range of 1 to 5 hours.
- A majority of nutrition teachers in this study stated that they
did not feel that enough nutrition education was taught in their
schools. However, several teachers said that increasing nutrition
education in the classroom would not impact students' health unless
the school nutrition environment reflected the information they taught.
- Elementary schools were more likely than middle or high schools
to provide nutrition education in the cafeteria. At the elementary
level, this education included skits, demonstrations, and menu contests.
In the middle and high schools using the cafeteria to teach about
nutrition, this education included nutrition fairs and cooking demonstrations.
- In elementary schools included in this study, students received
an average of 59 minutes of physical education per week or less than
one-half the nationally recommended time. Middle school students
received an average of 92 minutes per week, which is also less than
one-half the recommended time, and high school students averaged
65 minutes per week, which is less than onethird of the physical
education time recommended.
- None of the schools included in this study met the physical activity
recommendations put forth by Healthy People 2010, the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention, the National Association of Sports
and Physical Education, the National Association of State Boards
of Education, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Connecticut requires some physical education in schools, but neither
the amount nor the consistency of the scheduling is prescribed. Even
during years when physical education is included in the curriculum,
students in 23 percent of the middle schools and 69 percent of the
high schools included in this study can go for weeks or even months
with no physical education whatsoever.
- The majority of physical education teachers interviewed did not
feel that the physical education requirements at their schools were
adequate. However, they did feel that when physical education classes
were held, they were usually successful in getting students to engage
in at least 20 minutes of aerobic activity.
- Providing recess, as well as intramural and interscholastic sports,
can create opportunities for daily physical activity.
- Creating after-school programs through partnerships with local
groups, such as the town parks and recreation department or the YMCA,
can be an effective strategy in helping students become more physically