Rural School Food Service Director Perceptions on Voluntary School Meal Reforms
Keywords:Nutrition, Schools, School Meals, Health Promotion, Rural
This mixed-method study examined rural U.S. food service directors' perceptions of and experiences with voluntary school meal programs, which have the potential to improve school nutrition but have not been widely adopted in rural areas of the United States. Little is known about how rural food service directors perceive these programs. Interview and survey instruments examined how rural food service directors characterize barriers and facilitators to participation in voluntary school meal programs like farm-to-school and school garden programs. Rural school food service directors participated in a semistructured telephone interview (n=67) and an online survey (n=57). We defined rural school districts by the most rural locale codes (as categorized by the National Center for Education Statistics) in a midsized Midwestern state. Quantitative data were analyzed using descriptive statistics. We analyzed qualitative responses using thematic coding. The qualitative analysis revealed that directors had little experience with these programs and perceived these programs to be very challenging to implement. Issues common to rural school districts were a very small staff, lack of concrete knowledge about how these programs work, and lack of access to local producers and chefs. These findings underscore the need to consider the unique situation of rural schools when promoting voluntary school meals reform programs. We make recommendations about adopting and adapting these voluntary programs to better fit the reality of rural areas.
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