The State of School Lunch Report: An Analysis of America’s School Lunches

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As part of ProCare Therapy’s ongoing commitment to promoting overall well-being for our nation’s students, ProCare has released the State of School Lunch Report, which provides an in-depth analysis of how states compare when it comes to school lunch quality and nutrition, offering a complete ranking of the healthiest school lunch states.

In addition, the report delves into the most popular, iconic school lunch items served in cafeterias from coast to coast, giving you a taste of the unique flavors and dishes that have become synonymous with each state’s school lunch experience.

With childhood obesity and related health issues on the rise, it has never been more critical to ensure that our children have access to nutritious, well-balanced meals at school. This report aims to provide an authoritative resource on the best and worst performers for school lunches – a crucial aspect of our education system.

Not only does this report offer valuable insights into the healthiness of school lunches, but it also serves as a celebration of the diverse and delicious food traditions unique to each state. From the beloved sloppy joes in the Midwest to the iconic square pizzas of the South, our comprehensive list of iconic school lunch items will undoubtedly spark nostalgia for the nation’s school cafeterias.

Discover which states are leading the way in providing wholesome, nutritious meals for their students, and learn about the iconic dishes that have become staples of school lunchrooms across America. Together, we can work towards a future where every child has access to the healthy, delicious meals they need to thrive in their academic and personal lives.

The Healthiest School Lunch States

The State of School Lunch Report found that the top five states leading the way in offering the healthiest school lunches are Massachusetts (1), Maine (2), Hawaii (3), North Dakota (4), and Virginia (5).

The report’s findings were based on a combination of factors, such as meals served in adherence to federal nutrition guidelines and the rate of Farm to School program participation, which is a program through which schools buy and feature locally produced, farm-fresh foods on their menus. In addition, the report considered the state’s efforts to reduce added sugars and commitment to providing well-balanced, nutritious meals for their students, including fresh fruits and vegetables.

Hawaii has the largest Farm to School program participation, with 10.94% of school districts in the state engaging in a program. Georgia, Florida, Maryland, and Rhode Island are the states with the next highest Farm to School program participation.

Iowa boasts the largest rate of National School Lunch Program (NSLP) lunches served in 2023 per 10,000 children, at 809,076. These lunches follow nutritional guidelines based on “Dietary Recommendations for Americans” composed by the Institute of Medicine. Iowa is followed by Nebraska, North Dakota, and Mississippi for providing the highest rates of NSLP lunches.

Louisiana (50), Idaho (49), Wyoming (48), New Mexico (47), and Alaska (46) are the states that ranked the lowest for healthy school lunches. In these states, the participation in Farm to School programs, the NSLP meals served, and the fruit and vegetable consumption rate were relatively lower than in other states.

Explore how the U.S. states rank for healthiest school lunches below:

RankStateSchool Lunch Index Score
(100 total possible points)
1Massachusetts70.53
2Maine70.49
3Hawaii68.75
4North Dakota65.71
5Virginia65.46
6Connecticut65.05
7Georgia64.51
8Vermont62.27
9Rhode Island61.90
10New Jersey58.87
11Minnesota57.90
12Maryland57.65
13Missouri57.25
14Pennsylvania56.10
15California55.74
16New York55.64
17Tennessee55.54
18New Hampshire55.32
19Iowa55.22
20Nevada54.27
21Kentucky54.19
22Arizona52.75
23South Dakota52.29
24Indiana52.14
25North Carolina51.93
26Michigan51.80
27Arkansas51.22
28Florida50.28
29Illinois50.18
30Nebraska50.16
31Kansas48.75
32Ohio48.61
33Washington48.32
34Oklahoma48.08
35Oregon47.98
36West Virginia46.53
37Utah45.99
38Wisconsin45.92
39Alabama45.33
40Colorado44.99
41South Carolina44.95
42Mississippi43.95
43Texas43.48
44Delaware43.20
45Montana41.83
46Alaska41.34
47New Mexico40.98
48Wyoming40.38
49Idaho34.89
50Louisiana34.60

The Importance of School Lunch

ProCare Therapy commends the efforts of schools and state governments in promoting nutrition education and implementing policies to improve the overall health and well-being of their students. Initiatives such as farm-to-school programs, school gardens, and nutrition education classes have been instrumental in fostering a culture of healthy eating and encouraging students to make more informed decisions about their food choices.

“Access to nutritious and appealing school lunches is crucial for the health and academic success of our nation’s children,” said Senior Vice President of ProCare Therapy Stephanie Morris. “This report serves to recognize the states that are leading the charge in offering high-quality, healthy meals to their students, and to encourage other states to follow suit.”

With childhood obesity rates continuing to rise and research showing a strong link between nutrition and academic performance, the importance of healthy school lunches cannot be overstated. ProCare Therapy hopes that the State of School Lunch Report will serve as a catalyst for positive change, inspiring more states to prioritize the health and well-being of their students by offering nutritious, delicious, and satisfying school lunches.

Sources & Methodology

To most accurately calculate the final ranking, a range of values for each category was established and used to create a scale which each state was distributed against, receiving a value. This adjusted value determined how the state ranked for each category. Each state’s weighed value for all ten categories was added to determine the final ranking. Each category had an equal weight of 20%. The five categories and data sources utilized in the State of School Lunch Report include:

  • Farm to School Program Participation Rate: Farm to School is a program in the United States through which schools buy and feature locally produced, farm-fresh foods such as dairy, fruits and vegetables, eggs, honey, meat, and beans on their menus. The Farm to School program participation rate was retrieved from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Farm to school (F2S) census.
  • National School Lunch Program lunches served per 10,000 children: The number of school lunches served per 10,000 students according to the guidelines put out by the USDA National School Lunch Program (NSLP). The nutritional guidelines for the NSLP lunches are based on “Dietary Recommendations for Americans” composed by the Institute of Medicine. The number of NSLP lunches served in FY 2023 was retrieved from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). The number of children in each state was retrieved from the U.S. Census Bureau. “Age and Sex.” American Community Survey, ACS 1-Year Estimates Subject Tables, Table S0101, 2022.
  • Fruit Consumption: The estimated percentage of children in the state who ate fruit at least once daily in the last week. Retrieved from the National Survey of Children’s Health, Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau.
  • Vegetable Consumption: The estimated percentage of children in the state who ate a vegetable at least once daily in the last week. Retrieved from the National Survey of Children’s Health, Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau.
  • Sugary Drink Consumption: The estimated percentage of children in the state who did not consume sugary drinks in the last week. Retrieved from the National Survey of Children’s Health, Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau.

The Most Popular School Lunch Item in Every State

Using Google search data, ProCare identified the most popular school lunch item in every U.S. state. From the iconic Bosco Sticks to classic square pizza, below are the most popular school lunch items you can find in the cafeterias of each state!

StateMost Popular Lunch Item
AlabamaCrispitos
AlaskaMacaroni
ArizonaBurrito
ArkansasChicken Sandwich
CaliforniaChicken Sandwich
ColoradoEnchiladas
ConnecticutPasta Salad
DelawareSquare Pizza
FloridaMexican Pizza
GeorgiaPizza
HawaiiCalzone
IdahoPizza Burger
IllinoisChicken Sandwich
IndianaBosco Sticks
IowaBosco Sticks
KansasBosco Sticks
KentuckySquare Pizza
LouisianaFried Chicken
MaineLasagna
MarylandChicken Sandwich
MassachusettsSquare Pizza
MichiganBosco Sticks
MinnesotaPizza Burger
MississippiChicken Sandwich
MissouriSquare Pizza
MontanaChicken Pot Pie
NebraskaChicken Sandwich
NevadaSpicy Chicken Sandwich
New HampshirePizza Sticks
New JerseyRavioli
New MexicoPizza Crunchers
New YorkPizza
North CarolinaSquare Pizza
North DakotaSloppy Joe
OhioBosco Sticks
OklahomaEnchiladas
OregonEnchiladas
PennsylvaniaPizza Burger
Rhode IslandLasagna
South CarolinaSquare Pizza
South DakotaPizza Burger
TennesseeSquare Pizza
TexasEnchiladas
UtahPeanut Butter Bars
VermontBosco Sticks
VirginiaPizza
WashingtonEnchiladas
West VirginiaChicken Nuggets
WisconsinPasta Salad
WyomingChicken Nuggets

Help Support Happy & Healthy Students

Healthy school lunches play a vital role in shaping the lives of children, contributing to their overall well-being, academic performance, and growth. If you are passionate about helping students grow into strong, healthy individuals and are considering a career in this rewarding field, ProCare Therapy has a wide range of opportunities waiting for you.

At ProCare Therapy, we recognize the importance of school health professionals in fostering a supportive and nourishing environment for students. With ProCare, you can find the perfect role to suit your skills and interests – from promoting physical activity for children in need as an adapted physical education teacher to serving as an essential source of medical care for children as a school nurse. Whatever your interests, with one of ProCare’s roles, you’re given the opportunity to make a lasting difference in the lives of students and help shape a healthier, brighter future for our next generation.

Explore the exciting career opportunities with ProCare Therapy today and embark on a fulfilling journey toward creating a positive impact on children’s health and well-being!