Do School Lunch Menus Influence National School Lunch Program Participation?

he National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is one of the largest nutrition assistance programs in the United States, providing free and reduced-price lunches for income-eligible students as well as minimally subsidizing paid lunches for students that do not qualify to receive free or reduce-price lunches. Although the levels of nutrient deficiencies vary slightly across studies, the majority of the research concedes that NSLP participants consume more fats and sodium than non-participants, which may lead to higher rates of overweight and obesity. Furthermore, differences across income in dietary intake among NSLP participants may be an underlying cause of the previous mixed results. In this study, we investigate the relationship between income-eligibility status (Free, Reduced, or Paid) and entrée selection. Using a unique dataset tracking daily entrée choices and their nutritional value among elementary students at a suburban school district, this paper provides a novel approach to understanding the healthfulness of the NSLP. We find that while controlling for age, gender, and race, students that purchase free lunch choose entrees with less sodium than students purchasing either reduced-price or paid lunches. Relative to students purchasing free-lunches, students purchasing paid lunches also choose entrees with more protein and fat and entrees with fewer carbohydrates.

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Conference Paper/ Presentation
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JEL Codes:
D12; I18; I38 Q18
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 Record created 2017-08-04, last modified 2018-01-22

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