Photos capture parents’ perceived benefits and concerns around grab-and-go school meals during COVID-19

Mar 3, 2023

Grab-and-go meals replaced cafeteria lunch lines during COVID-19 campus closures to ensure that students have reliable access to food. To understand strategies that can improve participation in school meal programs, a study during COVID-19 documented how parents perceived the quality, healthfulness, and benefits of the grab-and-go school meals. Parents from eight school districts in the San Joaquin Valley, California, a region of predominantly Latino farm worker communities, participated in the study. Using a predetermined protocol, parents photographed all meal items provided in their students' school meals for a full week. They then participated in focus groups and group discussions to describe their perceptions of the school meals. Parents expressed appreciation for the convenience of grab-and-go meals, consistent access to food, and safety when collecting meals from school sites during the pandemic. Parents also reported concerns about unappealing meals, lack of variety in foods, and unsafe food packaging. The most common concern parents shared was about the healthfulness of packaged food items. Parents noted sugary, greasy, and fatty options, which did not meet their children's preference for fresh fruit and vegetables. Research findings suggest ways in which school meals can better appeal to both parents and their children to reduce food waste, support those who are food insecure, and increase school meal participation. Researchers of the publication in the Nutrients journal include Tatum Sohlberg, Emma Higuchi, Valeria Ordonez, Gabriela Escobar, Janine Bruce, and Anisha Patel from the Department of Pediatrics, Stanford University School of Medicine, Ashley De La Rosa and Cecelia Castro from Dolores Huerta Foundation, Genoveva Islas from Cultuva La Salud, and Ken Hecht and Christina Hecht from the Nutrition Policy Institute. This study was supported by funding from No Kid Hungry, Stanford Pediatrics Residency, and Stanford Children's Health Community Benefits Grant.

By Katherine Lanca
Author - Graduate Student
By Danielle L. Lee
Editor - Director of Communications & Research Engagement
By Christina Hecht
Editor - UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute Academic Coordinator