Health Policy

What Do Parents Think About School Meals? An Exploratory Study of Rural Middle School Parents' Perceptions.

Meier, C.L.; Brady, P.; Askelson, N.M.; Ryan, G.; Delger, P.; Scheidel, C.


Interventions targeting school meals have been used to combat obesity in rural youth. Parents play a powerful role in childhood nutrition; however, we know little about parents' perceptions of school meal programs. This study aimed to understand parents' perceptions of school meal programs. Surveys were administered to middle school parents (n = 576) at six schools in a rural state. We conducted univariate and multivariate analyses to measure parents' overall perceptions of the school meals program and to identify differences in perceptions by their children's participation in the Free and Reduced Price School Meals (F&RM) program. Parents had largely negative views of school meals but agreed that they met students' needs. Results of the multivariate analysis revealed differences in perceptions by participation in F&RM including the relative importance of meal components. Including parents in meal-related experiences and decision making could improve their perceptions and increase children's participation in school lunch programs.