School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study (SNMCS)

Prepared for
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 required the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish new meal pattern and nutrition requirements for the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. The new requirements are substantially different from the previous ones and are designed to bring the school meals into alignment with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and updated information on children's nutrient needs. In addition, the new requirements will support broader public health goals, including preventing obesity.

The School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study (SNMCS) provides data on a broad array of topics, including critical information about the food and nutrient content of school meals, the costs of school meals, the food environments in schools, and the contribution of school meals to children's overall diets. Data will be collected from nationally representative samples of 502 school food authorities (SFAs), 1,200 schools, 2,400 students, and a large sample of school meals (5,404 lunches and 3,360 breakfasts) during the 2014-2015 school year. The data collection includes the administration of several different types of instruments and modes, including self-administered web-based SFA director and school principal surveys, a food service manager survey, an electronic menu survey, competitive foods checklists, cafeteria environment observation, plate waste observation, Automated Multiple Pass Method 24-hour dietary recalls, measurement of student’s height and weight, student/parent surveys, meal cost interviews, and collection of administrative cost data.

Conducting the SNMCS at this historic juncture will provide the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service with crucial information about the nutritional quality and cost of school meals after implementation of the new meal pattern and nutrition requirements. The resulting data will allow USDA to describe the characteristics of school environments, policies, and practices; the levels of students’ participation and satisfaction, and their dietary intake; plate waste; and the relationships between these variables and the nutritional quality and cost of school meals. Comparisons of SNMCS findings with the findings from relatively recent prior national studies will provide information on the effects of the new regulations on food service operations, nutritional quality of meals, meal costs, and student dietary intakes.

Mathematica is conducting the study with its subcontractors Abt Associates, Agralytica, and Relyon Media LLC.