A Nutrient Analysis of COVID-19 Meals and Standard Meals in One Elementary School Participating in the National School Lunch Program

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Virginia Tech


To date, there has been limited research about the nutritional quality of school lunches during the COVID-19 pandemic. This analysis compared the nutritional profile of grab-and-go take-home lunches compared to standard lunches provided during in-person class instruction once normal schedules and school meals resumed at one elementary school. The study included two school lunch menus: 1) – one menu for take-home school lunches retained from January 2021 (COVID-19 lunches); and one lunch menu the school system’s standard food distributor from January 2023 (standard lunches). The nutritional content of the COVID-19 meals was analyzed using Food Processor nutrition software. Both lunch menus were analyzed for macronutrients – carbohydrates, cholesterol, fats, fiber, protein, and sugar along with micronutrients- calcium, potassium, sodium, iron, and vitamin D. A Mann Whitney U tests were used to compare differences between two independent groups – COVID-19 lunches and standard lunches. The Bonferroni adjustment was a post hoc adjustment used to decrease type I error. The COVID-19 meal entrees contained more iron than the standard lunch. For standard meals, the fruit groups contained more iron. The COVID-19 meal’s milk group contained significantly more total fat and vitamin D than the standard lunches. In the total meals, the only significant difference was a higher level of calcium in the COVID-19 take-home meals compared to standard meals. This analysis indicates school meals served during COVID-19 were nutritionally equivalent to standard meals, in spite of limitations with packaging lunches, supply side issues, etc. Additional research is warranted with larger sample sizes to provide broader insight into USDA school meals during COVID-19 and potential impacts on youth benefiting from these meals.