What's for Lunch? The Relationship between Menu Variety and School Lunch Participation
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
We find that menu variety does matter for lunch participation. Students in schools offering more than one lunch menu are more likely to participation in lunch. Extending the main analysis to investigate the relationship between the number of specific food items served and lunch participation suggests that the type of food added matters; the addition of a distinct salad to the set of meals offered is associated with lower participation. Responsiveness to menu variety also varies considerably by student characteristics, suggesting that certain populations are better served when offered greater choice and that menus can help close racial and economic gaps in school lunch participation. Lastly, menu variety is linked to higher test scores and greater attendance, with no discernible implications for weight outcomes.
This study contributes significantly to both the literature on food choice and take-up among school-aged children and adolescents as well as that on participation in the National School Lunch Program. Additionally, by examining an important component of the implementation of school lunch, it informs the efforts that many school districts are expending to increase lunch participation by reformulating their menus.