Food Group Preferences of Elementary School Children Participating in the National School Lunch Program

Document Type


Department or Administrative Unit

Nutrition Exercise and Health Sciences

Publication Date

Spring 2010


Purpose/Objectives The purpose of the study was to assess the food group preferences of second through fifth grade children based on ethnic background, gender, and grade. Food group preferences were determined by the amount of various food groups consumed in meals served as part of the National School Lunch Program at selected schools. Research indicates that greater consumption of food is directly proportional to preferences; the higher the preference, the greater the consumption.

Methods A plate waste study was conducted in a culturally diverse city in four predominantly free and reduced lunch eligible elementary schools with a large Hispanic population (58%, 69%, 82%, and 82% of students). Over a 40 day period (10 days at each of the 4 schools), 5,400 plates were evaluated. Individual food items in the school lunch were measured before and after the meals were served. Food group intakes were determined by measuring the difference between the amount served and the amount remaining of each menu item after the meal was complete.

Results Caucasian children were seen to have better consumption patterns than Hispanic children. The dairy, vegetable, and fruit food groups were better consumed by Caucasians than Hispanics (P <0.05). Girls and second graders were seen to consume less of the school lunch foods than boys and older students (P <0.05). The majority of children in all groups did not meet Food Guide Pyramid recommendations for the grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meat food groups.

Applications to Child Nutrition Professionals Since food preferences are the major determinant of consumption, poorer consumption patterns for Hispanic students may indicate a reduced preference for those foods being served through the school lunch menus. Child Nutrition Professionals need to consider what foods are nourishing, yet acceptable, for the specific population in their schools to help ensure that the children will consume the foods. This is especially critical in schools where the children are from lower socioeconomic families since the meals received at school may be their major nutrient source for the day.


This article was originally published in The Journal of Child Nutrition & Management. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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The Journal of Child Nutrition & Management