Do parental perceptions of the nutritional quality of school meals reflect the food environment in public schools?

Sarah Martinelli, Francesco Acciai, Michael J. Yedidia, Punam Ohri-Vachaspati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


(1) Background: It is unknown whether parents’ perception of school meals, a determinant of student meal participation, align with the nutritional quality of meals served in schools. This study compares the healthfulness of foods offered in schools with parental perception of school meals at those same schools. (2) Method: Parents were asked to rate the healthfulness of school meals at their child’s school. Data on the types of foods offered were collected from public schools in four cities in New Jersey and matched with parent-reported data. Measures were developed to capture the presence of healthy and unhealthy items in the National School Lunch Program and the presence of a la carte offerings as well as vending machines. Multivariable analysis examined the association between parental perceptions of school meals and the school food measures after adjusting for covariates. (3) Results: Measures of the school food environment and parental perceptions were available for 890 pre-K to 12th grade students. No significant associations were observed between parental perceptions and food environment measures when examined one by one or in a comprehensive model. (4) Conclusions: Parents’ perception of the healthfulness of meals served do not align with the nutritional quality of foods offered at schools.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number10764
JournalInternational journal of environmental research and public health
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 1 2021


  • Nutrition
  • Perceptions
  • School food

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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