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This study investigated factors that infl uence students’ participation in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP). The analysis used recently collected data on a large, nationally representative sample of students certifi ed for free and reduced-price meals during the 2005–06 school year. Results show that, although eligible students are very likely to participate in the programs (i.e. pick up the meal offered that day), eligible elementary school students are more likely to participate than are middle or high school students. Likewise, students who like the taste of the meals are more likely to participate than are students who do not like the taste. In addition, if students now eligible for reduced-price lunches were instead given free lunches, they would participate more than they do now. The same was not strictly the case, however, for breakfast. Finally, the study suggests that analysts should use caution in relying on parents’ reports of a student’s participation to estimate yearly school meal participation. Parental reports of the previous day’s or previous week’s participation tend to overstate participation, which results in higher reported annual participation rates than is true according to administrative data.


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