Availability and Nutritional Adequacy of Plant-Based Items in Public High School Lunch Menus
Keywords:Nutriton, Lunch Menus, Plant-based, Public Highschool
Despite a growing body of research that indicates the health benefits of eating less meat and more plant-based foods, there is limited research on the actual availability of these plant-based options in high schools regulated by the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). This study aims to explore the availability of plant-based food items in public Cincinnati high schools enrolled in the NSLP and to determine whether the nutritional profiles of available plant-based options meet the caloric needs of high school students seeking a plant-based diet. The plant-based diet index (PDI) was used to provide a metric for whether a food item is absent of any animal products and can be further divided into healthy (hPDI) and unhealthy (uPDI) options. 361 lunch options from 8 Cincinnati public high schools were categorized into four food groups: Entrees, Sides, Vegetables and Fruits. It was found that there is a considerable scarcity of plant-based entree items, which account for only 1.3% of all entrees. Consequently, students following a plant-based diet would be unable to meet their caloric requirements at 75% of the studied schools (174 of ~800 recommended calories), and students following a healthful plant-based diet could not meet their caloric needs at any of the studied schools (131 of ~800 recommended calories). This may leave students who are reliant on the NSLP unable to obtain the health benefits of a plant-based diet, which would have disproportionate consequences for poorer students.
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