Top School Lunch Statistics…And What to Do About Them

Statistics regarding school lunch programs in the United States are staggering. Not only in demonstrating the impact these programs have on students and their learning experiences–but also in the complexity and the full scope of cafeteria management, in adhering to nutritional guidelines, and more, all while managing every morsel in between.   

School lunches impact student learning and help schools achieve their goals.  

  • Children and teens who eat healthy school lunches (as opposed to unhealthy lunches) are 340% more likely to remember information presented in class throughout the day. 
  • By providing school lunches, school enrollment often improves by 20%. 

These statistics have been observed by teachers, staff, and administration alike. Not only do students perform better and learn to make healthy nutritional choices through school meal programs, but there is also a decrease in behavioral issues because students are nourished and less focused on feelings of hunger. Additionally, one sobering statistic is that a school meal may be the only meal, nutritious or otherwise, that a student receives in a given day. 

National school lunch standards set healthy guidelines for feeding students.  

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) provides the overarching nutritional guidelines for school meals and helps in funding school cafeteria programs.  

  • Five billion lunches are served annually through the NSLP, and more than 30 million students participate in the NSLP every year.  
  • The government provides only about 20% of a school district’s budget for lunches, meaning 80% of a district’s budget for school lunches must come from other sources.  
  • Federal government guidelines for school lunches added $0.10 to the cost of a lunch, yet, Congressional subsidies increased by only $0.06. What may seem like only a $0.04 difference, results in a $200,000,000 or a 200-million-dollar deficit for schools, nationally, from adhering to these healthy guidelines. 
  • U.S. public schools account for 1.9% of food waste across the country, accumulating to approximately 36.5 pounds of wasted food per student per year.  
  • 80% of school districts have financial losses due to serving healthier school lunches.  

Healthy meal options aren’t always the most appealing to young tastebuds.  

Despite meal program goals of providing healthy and nutritious school lunches to children, it’s not always easy to get students to make those choices on their own. Additionally, many schools find it challenging to interpret and implement nutritional guidelines in creative ways.   

  • The top two most popular items on a school lunch menu are cheese pizza and fried foods.  
  • French fries are considered a “vegetable” serving.  
  • The average student takes in more than 50% of their vegetables through french fry consumption.  
  • Only 10% of all children eat the recommended daily allowance of fruits and vegetables. 
  • Four out of every five schools do not meet the current USDA standards regarding fat content in their meals. 

So how can schools use statistics like this to create solutions for better cafeteria and school lunch program outcomes? To start, schools need to integrate technology into their school lunch programs. With technology and software solutions, administrators, directors, and frontline cafeteria staff can track, report, analyze, and improve their school lunch programs. This helps with healthy meal planning and preparation, engaging students, helping students to make healthier decisions overall, adhering to federal guidelines, significantly reducing waste, as well as many other savings and cost-reducing alternatives. 

At Harris School Nutrition Solutions, our comprehensive line of software solutions is uniquely designed with cafeteria pain points in mind, to improve cafeteria management while supplying the data needed to assist administrators and staff in more strategic decision-making processes. To learn more about streamlining and enhancing your school food service programs, contact our friendly team of experts.