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Calories In, Calories Out: Food and Exercise in Public Elementary Schools, 2005

NCES 2006-057
May 2006

Types of Food Available in the School and in the Cafeteria or Lunchroom

The survey collected information on selected types of food that were offered for sale at different locations in the school in 2005-the school cafeteria or lunchroom, and vending machines and school stores or snack bars (which may or may not be located in the school cafeteria or lunchroom). Schools with any cafeteria or lunchroom food services were asked whether students can purchase each of 15 foods separate from full school meals during mealtimes in the school cafeteria or lunchroom. The foods included four broad groups-nondairy beverages, dairy products, lunch sides, and snack foods-and ranged from nutritious items such as 100% juice and green salad or fruit to less nutritious items such as soft drinks and candy (figure 3 and table 3).

  • Nondairy beverages: 100% fruit or vegetable juice, sports drinks or fruit drinks that are not 100% juice, soft drinks, and bottled water.
  • Dairy products: low-fat or skim milk, milk that is not low fat or skim, yogurt, and ice cream or frozen yogurt.
  • Lunch sides: french fried potatoes and green salad or fruit.
  • Snack foods: candy; low-fat salty snacks such as pretzels and baked or other low-fat chips; salty snacks that are not low in fat such as regular potato chips and cheese puffs; low-fat cookies, cakes, pastries, and other baked goods; and cookies, cakes, pastries, and other baked goods that are not low in fat.

Respondents also indicated whether the nine nondairy beverages and snack foods were available for sale at vending machines and school stores or snack bars.

Information about the types of food available in the cafeteria or lunchroom was combined with information about the types of food available at vending machines and school stores or snack bars to create an overall measure of whether each of the listed foods was available at one or more locations in the school in 2005.1 Eighty-eight percent of public elementary schools had at least 1 of the 15 foods for sale outside of full school meals at one or more locations in the school, and 84 percent had at least one of the foods for sale in the cafeteria or lunchroom (figure 3 and table 3).

  • Nondairy beverages. Public elementary schools were more likely to offer healthier nondairy beverages for sale, such as 100% juice, than less nutritious beverages such as soft drinks (figure 3 and table 3). For example, 53 percent of the schools offered 100% fruit or vegetable juice and 46 percent offered bottled water for sale at one or more locations in the school. In contrast, 31 percent of the schools offered sport drinks or fruit drinks that were not 100% juice and 12 percent offered soft drinks for sale. Differences in the availability of healthy beverages versus less nutritious beverages were also observed for nondairy beverages in the cafeteria or lunchroom. For example, 47 percent of the schools offered 100% fruit or vegetable juice in the cafeteria or lunchroom, while 22 percent offered sport drinks or fruit drinks that were not 100% juice at this location.
  • Dairy products and lunch sides. Schools reported on the availability of dairy products and lunch sides in the cafeteria or lunchroom (figure 3 and table 3). About three in four public elementary schools offered low-fat or skim milk for sale, while 39 percent offered milk that was not low fat or skim, 34 percent offered ice cream or frozen yogurt, and 26 percent offered yogurt. Furthermore, public elementary schools were more likely to report the availability of green salad or fruit than french fried potatoes as lunch sides in the cafeteria or lunchroom.
  • Snack foods. Fifteen percent of public elementary schools offered candy for sale at one or more locations in the school, and 5 percent offered this snack in the cafeteria or lunchroom (figure 3 and table 3). Schools were more likely to offer low-fat salty snacks than those that were not low in fat (38 vs. 25 percent), but they were less likely to offer low-fat cookies or baked goods than those that were not low in fat (28 vs. 34 percent). Differences were also observed for the availability of salty snacks and cookies or baked goods in the cafeteria or lunchroom.
  • Differences by school characteristics for foods sold at the school. The proportion of public elementary schools that offered various types of food for sale at one or more locations in the school differed by school characteristics (table 4). For example:
    • Large and medium-sized schools were more likely than small schools to offer at least 1 of the 15 listed foods at one or more locations in the school (91 and 90 percent vs. 83 percent, respectively) (table 4). Differences also held for green salad or fruit and all of the dairy foods (except milk that was not low fat or skim). In addition, large schools were more likely than small schools to offer 100% fruit or vegetable juice, bottled water, and low-fat cookies or baked goods for sale. However, the reverse held true for some of the less nutritious items, with small schools being more likely than medium-sized and large schools to offer soft drinks and candy for sale.
    • Schools in the Southeast were more likely than those located in the West and Central regions to sell at least one of the listed foods at one or more locations in the school (table 4). Differences were also observed for the sale of 100% juice and bottled water. In addition, schools in the Northeast and Southeast were more likely than those located in the West and Central regions to offer other listed foods-green salad or fruit, all of the dairy products, and all of the snack foods, except candy-at one or more locations in the school.
    • Schools with the highest poverty concentration were less likely than those with the lowest poverty concentration to offer at least one of the listed foods at one or more locations in the school (84 vs. 90 percent) (table 4). Differences generally held for green salad or fruit, low-fat salty snacks, and all of the listed dairy products. Differences were also observed for the sale of sports or fruit drinks that were not 100% juice, and cookies or baked goods that were not low in fat.
    • Schools were more likely to report the availability of foods if foods were sold to generate funds to support food service operations than if the foods were not sold for this purpose (table 4). This difference was observed for the sale of all of the foods except soft drinks.

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1 For example, soft drinks was coded as being available for sale at one or more locations at the school if this item was available at any of the following locations: school cafeteria or lunchroom, vending machines, or school stores or snack bars.

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