27 Unhealthy School Lunches Statistics

Do you send your kids to school with a cold lunch? Or do you rely on the school lunch program to make sure your children have their nutritional needs met for their midday meal?

A school lunch should be healthy, but unfortunately, the opposite seems to be true in the United States.

Did you know that children who eat a school lunch are 500% more likely to consume two servings of unhealthy fats in their meal compared to children who bring their own lunches?

With overweight and obesity rates rising in children, the time to create healthy school lunches is now. That’s why knowing these unhealthy school lunch statistics is so important.

27 School Lunch Statistics

1. More than 30 million students participate in the National School Lunch Program every year.

2. Almost 100,000 different institutions, including public schools, serve lunches to children every day.

3. Of the 30 million students being served, 20 million children receive free lunches because their families have a household income that is below 130% of the established Federal poverty level.

4. Another 5 million children receive reduced-price lunches because their household income is 185% of the poverty level or below.

5. There are 5 billion lunches served annually through the National School Lunch Program.

6. For students in the United Kingdom, absentee rates decreased by 14% just by switching to a healthier school lunch program. For students in India, there was a 30% decrease in the rates of student iron deficiency by adding a healthy school lunch to the daily routine.

7. 1 in 3 high school students receives an average of less than 1 serving of vegetables per day, especially when they are using the school lunch program. Even this statistic can be misleading because an ingredient like tomato paste can count as a serving of vegetables.

8. For students in Bangladesh, those who received fortified foods as part of their school routine had grades that were 16% better than students who did not receive the same type of healthy food option.

9. Students who eat a school lunch in the United States are twice as likely to have two or fewer servings of fruit in any given day.

10. Students who eat school lunches are less likely to participate in after-school programs, exercise for up to 60 minutes per day through play, or participate in any form of competitive or recreational sports.

11. Kids who eat a healthy school lunch compared to an unhealthy school lunch are 340% more likely to retain the information they learn during their studies over the course of a day.

12. When school lunches are offered, school enrollment in that area can go up by 20%. For African school districts, the offering of a school lunch increases enrollment in a community by an average of 22%.

13. For US-based school districts, more than 50% of the schools that prepare their meals at a local facility use fresh or frozen vegetables.

14. 4 out of every 5 schools in the United States do not meet the current USDA standards in place for the fat composition that is included in the student lunches.

15. 2 out of every 5 elementary schools offers access to a vending machine on school grounds that allows for the purchase of a sugary carbonated drink.

16. Only 20% of the budget that a school district receives for their lunches comes from the US government.

17. To stop obesity rates from continuing to rise, as they have more than tripled in the US since 1980, calorie caps have been included on many school lunches. Some lunches may be 650 calories or less. For some students, where this is the only primary meal they receive, that cap can lead to even more nutritional gaps than if it weren’t in place at all.

18. Something needs to be done. At the current rate, 40% of girls in elementary school right now will one day be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. About 3 out of every 4 students is either overweight or obese right now is going to retain that weight as they get older. That means the time to establish healthy eating habits is right now.

19. 48% of the cost of a school lunch is directly attributed to the labor required to produce a meal. Just 37% of the school lunch cost is food. That means out of a $3 lunch, $1.50 is going to pay the person who made and serve it and $1 is going into the quality of the food.

20. Healthy school lunch requirements that were mandated by the Federal Government added just $0.10 to the cost of producing a school lunch, but Congressional subsidies for school lunch programs were increased by just $0.06.

21. 80% of school districts in the United States have been forced to take steps to address financial losses that have occurred with the requirement to serve healthier school lunches. Some of those actions have included laying off staff, canceling equipment investments, or taking funds out of a reserve program.

22. The average amount of time that an elementary student receives to eat their lunch is just 25 minutes. For middle school and high school students, the average amount of time to eat is just 30 minutes. Because fresh produce and other healthier items take more time to consume, today’s children are eating fewer foods, even if they are healthier, and that is leading to additional hunger gaps being formed.

23. The average child has up to 50% of their vegetable servings consist of French fries. Just 10% of all children in the United States regularly consumes the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables.

24. 20% of public high schools in the United States offer menu items from local quick-service restaurants, such as Taco Bell. And so do 10% of elementary schools in the US.

25. From 2001-2009, the US government spent almost $150 million on spent-hen meat for the school lunch program. Spent hens are too old to produce eggs. Before school lunches, the two most common places to find this type of meat was in compost piles or pet-food products.

26. Spent-hen meat that is purchased for the school lunch program doesn’t even meet the standards of a quick-service venue, such as Kentucky Fried Chicken. QSRs even test the meat they serve up to 10 times more often than the average school district.

27. The two most common items that can be found on a school lunch menu are cheese pizza and fried foods.

The bottom line is this: US kids are served foods that are classified as “kid friendly.” Elsewhere in the world, kids are served meals that are more reflective of traditional home cooking. Although the results are still being collected, children being served healthy lunches seem to be healthier.

Go figure.

Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.