New study shows school meal consumption during COVID increased intake of fruit and vegetables and sugary drinks

Dec 2, 2023

Nutrition Policy Institute researchers led a recent study published in the California Agriculture journal. During COVID-related school closures school meal consumption was associated with eating more fruits and vegetables. Researchers administered online surveys to 3,297 fourth and fifth-grade students in 67 CalFresh Healthy Living–eligible schools and after-school programs in California during the pandemic. Survey results showed that, on average, students who ate one or more school meals daily consumed fruit and vegetables four times per day. This was significantly higher than students who did not eat school meals; they consumed fruits only two times and vegetables three times per day. However, 100% fruit juice accounted for 40% of daily fruit intake and students who ate school meals had significantly higher sugar-sweetened beverage intake with three-quarters of it coming from flavored milk. Study results suggest an opportunity for improvement in supporting and encouraging schools to continue providing nutritious meals, whole fruits instead of 100% juice, and reduce sugary drink consumption by promoting unflavored milk. The study was led by NPI researchers Kaela Plank, Amanda Linares, Sridharshii Hewawitharana and Gail Woodward-Lopez. This study was conducted as a part of a contract with the California Department of Public Health with funding from the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education.

By Brianna Aguayo Villalon
Author - Student Communications Fellow
By Amanda Linares
By Danielle Lee
Editor - Director of Communications & Research Engagement