BACKGROUND: Foods provided in schools represent a substantial portion of US children's dietary intake; however, the school food environment has proven difficult to describe due to the lack of comprehensive, standardized, and validated measures.
METHODS: As part of the Arkansas Act 1220 evaluation project, we developed the School Cafeteria Nutrition Assessment (SCNA) measures to assess food availability in public school cafeterias (n = 113). The SCNA provides a measure to evaluate monthly school lunch menus and to observe foods offered in school cafeterias during the lunch period. These measures provide information on the availability of fruit, vegetables, grains (whole or white), chips (reduced fat or regular), side dishes, main dishes, beverages, à la carte selections, and desserts, as well as information on healthier preparation of these items. Using independent raters, the inter-rater reliability of the measure was determined among a subsample of these schools (n = 32).
RESULTS: All food categories assessed, with the exception of the side dish and chip categories, had inter-rater reliability rates of 0.79 or greater, regardless of school type. The SCNA scores encompassed the majority of the possible scores, indicating the ability for the measures to differentiate between school cafeterias in the availability of healthier options.
CONCLUSION: These measures allow comprehensive, rapid measurement of school cafeteria food availability with high inter-rater reliability for public health and school health professionals, communities, and school personnel. These measures have the potential to contribute to school health efforts to evaluate cafeteria offerings and/or the impact of policy changes regarding school foods.