Most schools participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), a federal assistance program regulated by the USDA. You can learn more about the NSLP and its history by clicking here.
Meals served in the National School Lunch Program are regulated. For example, they must include items from different food groups. Also, the percentage of calories from fat for the entire meal must be less than 30, and less than 10 percent from saturated fat, in following with dietary recommendations. These are valuable regulations, but the USDA’s "offer versus serve" policy keeps the rules from guaranteeing healthy meals. Although schools offer foods from the five basic food groups (grain, protein, fruit, vegetable, and dairy) as options, students must take only three of them in order for the lunch to be considered a complete, reimbursable NSLP meal.
In many cases, the child takes the protein, starch and dairy, and leaves the vegetable and fruit behind. This phenomenon is what inspired the Rudd Center's fruit study to see whether serving fruit would encourage more children to eat fruit with their lunch. The study found that a simple verbal prompt has a significant impact on the likelihood that children will take, and subsequently consume, a fruit serving as part of their purchased school lunch. To download a copy of the full research paper, please click here. In light of the findings, we recommend that children be served fruits and vegetables (rather than offered) in order to increase their intake of important nutrients.