Competitive Foods

According to the USDA, competitive foods are foods "sold to children in food service areas during meal periods in competition with the federal meal programs." The USDA divides competitive foods into two categories. The first is foods of minimal nutritional value (FMNV). USDA regulations prohibit the sale of FMNV in school-food service areas during mealtimes. FMVN include carbonated drinks (such as sweetened soft drinks), chewing gum, and candy. These items may be sold in other areas at anytime during the school day. States and local school districts may have their own restrictions on the sale of FMNV.

The second category includes other foods offered for individual sale in food service or other areas on a school campus. These foods may include






Grades K-6

Grades 7-12





Total fat (percentage of total food energy)


*1, 2


Saturated fat (percentage of

actual total food energy)


* 1, 3


RDA for protein (g)




RDA for calcium (mg)




RDA for iron (mg)




RDA for vitamin A (RE)




RDA for vitamin C (mg)




*1. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that after 2 years of age, children should gradually adopt a diet,

that by about 5 years of age, contains no more than 30 percent of calories from fat.

2. Not to exceed 30 percent over a school week

3. Less than 10 percent over a school week.

"RE" refers to "retinol equivalent," a measure of the vitamin A activity in foods.

second servings of foods from the NSLP, a la carte items, and other foods and beverages from vending machines, school stores, or snack bars that students buy in addition to or in place of the NSLP.

FMNV items include snacks that are high in fat and sugar, as well as sodas, which are dense with empty calories. Most of these items are offered in vending machines, snack bars, school stores, and sometimes as fund raisers that occur during mealtimes at school. These foods have certain characteristics. First, they have minimal nutritional value and have no regulated nutrition standards. Second, these foods usually contain high amounts of fat, calories, and sugar. In many schools, the lunch period does not offer sufficient time for students to stand in line, get their food and to eat it. In cases where lines are long at the school cafeteria, many students choose to buy snacks from vending machines. Often students spend all their lunch money in the vending machines before they get to the cafeteria.

School food service (SFS) personnel face many problems when it comes to providing quality service to children. For one thing, they are not allowed to make a profit. Yet, they have to compete with commercial food caterers for staff and customers. They also have to provide meals that are appealing, low cost, and that follow the DGA and federal regulations for RDAs in order to qualify for reimbursements for free and reduced-price lunches. While most parents do not mind giving their children as much as five dollars to spend at fast-food restaurants, they complain about spending $2.75 for a well- prepared nutritious school meal for their children.

SFS personnel have to please the school administrators, parents, teachers, children, and the public in order to be successful. The public is often not aware that cafeteria workers work very hard, often get no benefits because most of them are part-time workers, get paid less than their counterparts in commercial operations, and do not get much appreciation for their work. Strangely, many cafeteria workers remain in their jobs for long periods. Many of America's school cafeterias are staffed by dedicated individuals who love children.

The American School Food Service Association maintains that their mission goes beyond traditional school meal programs to better their schools and communities. They are committed to the health and well-being of the children served by their programs. see also Adolescent Nutrition; School-Aged Children, Diet of.

Kweethai C. Neill


Jansen, G. R. and Harper, J. M. (1978). "Consumption and Plate Waste of Menu Items Served in the National School Lunch Program." Journal of the American Dietetic Association 73 (4), 395-400.

Shanklin, C. "Kids Choose Healthy Lunches, But Don't Eat Them." Journal of the American Dietetic Association 101, 1060-1063.

Internet Resources

  1. S. Department of Agriculture. "National School Lunch Program." Available from <>
  2. S. Department of Agriculture. "School Breakfast Program." Available from <>

This X-ray of an infant afflicted by scurvy shows some of the skeletal effects of the disease, including bowed legs, stunted bone growth, and swollen joints. Infants who are fed only cow's milk are at risk of developing scurvy, since cow's milk is not an adequate source of vitamin C. [Photograph by Lester V. Bergman. Corbis Images. Reproduced by permission.]

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