Beverage Selections and Impact on Healthy Eating Index Scores in Elementary Children’s Lunches From School and From Home

Document Type


Department or Administrative Unit

Nutrition Exercise and Health Sciences

Publication Date

Spring 2016


The purposes of this study were to: 1) analyze beverage selections of elementary students consuming National School Lunch Program meals (NSLP) and lunches brought from home (LBFH), 2) compare overall meal quality (MQ) of NSLP and LBFH by food components using Healthy Eating Index 2010 (HEI-2010), and 3) investigate the impact of beverage selections on MQ.

Digital plate waste estimations were analyzed for 509 NSLP and 524 LBFH meals from 2nd-5th grade students in four elementary schools during the 2011-2012 academic year. Nutrient Data Software for Research (NDSR) was used to determine food groups and nutrients for calculations. Independent t-tests compared NSLP and LBFH meal components. Two one-way ANOVA tests compared HEI-2010 dietary component scores by the following beverage selections: 1% plain milk, non-fat flavored milk, 100% fruit juice, sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB), or water/no beverage.

NSLP (90% non-fat flavored or 1% plain milk) and LBFH (75% water/none or SSB) varied widely in beverages selected. LBFH provided significantly (p < 0.05) more Whole Grains (NSLP 2.8/5pts vs LBFH 4.7pts) and Seafood & Plant Proteins (NSLP 0.5/5pts vs LBFH 1.7pts) than NSLP. NLSP provided more Dairy (NSLP 9.3/10pts vs LBFH 4.7pts). NSLP scored higher in Total Protein, and reduced Empty Calories. Both meal origins indicated a need for improvement in Greens/Bean Vegetables and Seafood/Plant Proteins. Selection of 1% plain milk resulted in significantly higher HEI-2010 scores (NSLP served 55.7/100pts, consumed 53.9pts and LBFH, served 62.1, consumed 60.2).

Applications for Child Nutrition Professionals
Child nutrition professionals consistently provide nutritious beverages like 1% plain milk, non-fat flavored milk, and 100% juice in NSLP meals. A “milk only” line for children with LBFH may encourage milk consumption and improve HEI scores of LBFH. LBFH would benefit from elimination of sugar sweetened beverages (SSB). Increased nutrition education to teachers, staff, parents, and children on the effects of various beverages on dietary quality would be appropriate to further improve beverage selection and meal quality.


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

Due to copyright restrictions, this article is not available for free download from ScholarWorks @ CWU.


The Journal of Child Nutrition & Management