USDA school meal programs represent a significant Federal investment, at a cost of almost $8 billion in 2001. More than 27 million children are served school meals annually, making USDA school meals programs a logical place to look for action to improve children's diets. It has been argued that improving the nutritional quality of school meals will raise costs, and therefore increasing USDA school meal reimbursement levels is necessary for that improvement to occur. However, the relationship of school meal costs to success in achieving program outcomes-that is, serving healthful appealing meals that are well-consumed by children-has never been thoroughly investigated. Previous USDA studies of the school meal programs such as the National Evaluation of School Nutrition Programs (NESNP), conducted in school year 1980-81, and School Nutrition Dietary Assessment-I(SNDA-I), conducted in 1991-92, have examined important outcome measures such as participation and dietary intakes. Costs of school meals were also examined in a separate study conducted in school year 1992-93. However, these studies predate important changes in school meal nutrition standards. Moreover, separate collection of data on costs and outcomes did not allow exploration of the relationship between outcomes and costs.