The majority of competitive foods and beverages available during the school day are offered in school cafeterias through à la carte sales. In some cases, à la carte selections are foods and beverages that are also part of a school’s regular reimbursable meal offerings. À la carte selections may also include foods and beverages sold separately that are not sold as part of the federally-funded school meals.
As shown in Table 3-1, à la carte sales include a broad range of foods and beverages from fruits, vegetables, and bread products to cookies and salty snacks. It is important to note that the “n/a” symbol in the table means that the relevant food was not asked about in the survey, not that it was not frequently available. Indeed, other information (GAO, 2005) indicates that items not asked about in the survey represented in this table are commonly available à la carte, including milk, bottled water, sandwiches, pizza, and entrées from the main NSLP meals.
Competitive foods, including à la carte offerings, are part of the food service program in a majority of U.S. schools (GAO, 2004). However, some states do not allow à la carte sales as part of the school meal programs, and some limit what can be served. For example, Title 126 of the West Virginia Board of Education Policy 4321.1, requires that only meal components can be sold as à la carte items at breakfast, and only fluid milk, milk shakes, and bottled water can be sold à la carte at lunch (WVDE, 2004).
Vending machines are common in secondary schools and many elementary schools also allow them on school property (French et al., 2003; Nestle, 2000). CDC (Wechsler et al., 2001) showed that 43 percent of elementary schools, 74 percent of middle schools, and 98 percent of high schools have either a vending machine, a school store, or a snack bar where students can purchase foods and beverages.
The range of food and beverage choices found in vending machines is much narrower than that of the à la carte line (French et al., 2003). This may be due, in part, to the need for refrigeration of fresh food and beverage products. In a GAO report to Congress, the most common types of food and beverage offered in school vending machines were identified as water, fruit and vegetable juices, sports drinks, salty snacks, and soft drinks (GAO, 2005). The most common types of competitive foods offered in high schools through any venue were identified as fruit and vegetable juices, sports drinks, salty snacks, baked goods, sandwiches, pizza, frozen desserts, candy, and soft drinks (GAO, 2005).
In assessing the prevalence of vending machines in schools, it is im-