Dietary Patterns

While school-food service personnel attempt to provide healthful meals and food choices, children do not always eat the food they receive. The dietary patterns of children are determined by social, psychological, and economic factors.

Toddlers and preschoolers spend more time eating at home than they do in school. Their food choices and food preferences are thus largely dependent on what their parents and caregivers provide. When children are young, their parents and families have greater control over what they eat. As they get older, however, what their friends eat in the school environment, and what is available to them in school and elsewhere, will have an impact on what they eat. According to Kweethai Neill, Tom Dinero, and Diane Allensworth, what children eat at school is dependent on many factors, including the cafeteria environment, peer pressure, administrative support, teacher participation, cafeteria staff, and the quality of food choices offered.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, more families are headed by single parents than ever before, and a greater number of two-parent families have both parents in the workforce. As a result, toddlers and preschoolers often have to depend on their schools to feed them. If they are eligible for the SBP and NSLP at school, they can have free or reduced-priced breakfasts and lunches. Even so, there is no guarantee they will eat what they are given.

Children need nutritious foods to grow and to function. Many American adolescents skip breakfast by choice either because they do not have the time to eat or in order to lose weight. In addition, many school-aged children depend on junk foods for their nourishment. Studies on American adolescents show that, in general, they have inadequate intake of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. More than one-third of their daily intake comes from eating snacks between meals. These snacks include high-fat fast-food items such as cheeseburgers and potato chips. American teens consume more than a third of their calories from saturated fats. Krebs-Smith and colleagues found that one-fourth of the vegetables that children consume are french-fried potatoes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that 70.7 percent of high school students do not eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables during the day, that 72.6 percent do not attend

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