At A Glance

Noteworthy Characteristics

  • Provides national data on nutritional quality of meals offered to, selected by, and, when student-level data are collected, consumed by children who participate in the NSLP and SBP. Data are collected at district, school, and sometimes, student levels.
  • Describes district and school food environments and policies.
  • Evaluates whether the meals conform to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
  • Student-level data, when collected, includes 24-hour dietary recalls, which can be used to assess the adequacy of children’s usual dietary intakes, and measured height and weight.



To collect data about the nutritional quality of meals offered, served, and consumed in public schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP) in the United States (U.S.). The study also collects data about district and school policies and key characteristics of program operations.

Target Population

National samples of school food authorities (SFAs; generally analogous to school districts) and schools in the 48 contiguous states. To date, alternating waves of the study also have included a random sample of students in grades 1-12 and their parents.


Began 1991-1992 and conducted periodically since then. SNDA-I collected data for schools 1991-1992 and included student-level data. SNDA-II collected data for school year 1998-1999. SNDA-III collected data for school year 2004-2005 and included student-level data. SNDA-IV collected data for school year 2009-2010. Public-use data files for SNDA-III and SNDA-IV are available from the study sponsor.

the SNDA study is no longer being conducted; the last round of data was collected for school year 2009-2010. The SNDA studies have been replaced by the School Nutrition and Meal Cost studies (SNMCS).


Food and Nutrition Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Special Note(s)

In SY 2014-2015, data will be collected for the School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study (SNMCS). The SNMCS, which include data collection at SFA, school, and student levels, will combine the goals of the SNDA series of studies with a parallel series of studies that has examined school meal costs (the School Lunch and Breakfast Cost Studies). The SNMCS will allow researchers to assess, for the first time in a national sample, the relationships among meal quality, meal costs, student participation, plate waste, and students' dietary intakes. The second round of this study (SNMCS-II) was awarded on October 2017. Data will be collected in SY 2019-2020.

See also information about previous SNDA surveys:




Sample Design

Cross-sectional survey.

Two- or three-stage stratified sample to produce nationally representative samples of school food authorities (SFAs), schools, and students. Random sampling of schools for the student survey (SNDA-I and SNDA-III). Learn more about the sampling design.

Sample Size

Varies. SNDA-III: Approximately 130 school districts, 400 schools, and 2,300 students (from approximately 300 schools) in 2004-2005. SNDA-IV: Approximately 600 SFAs and 900 schools in 2010.

Key Variables


NameMethods of Assessment
AgeInterview/questionnaire (parent; student)
Child resides/does not reside with motherInterview/questionnaire (parent; student)
Eligibility for school nutrition programInterview/questionnaire (food service manager; school principal)
Family incomeInterview/questionnaire (parent)
Grade levelInterview/questionnaire (parent)
Household sizeInterview/questionnaire (parent; student)
Mother’s employment outside homeInterview/questionnaire (parent)
Race/ethnicityInterview/questionnaire (parent)
SexInterview/questionnaire (parent)
Socioeconomic statusInterview/questionnaire (parent)


NameMethods of Assessment
District food policiesInterview/questionnaire (School Food Authority [SFA] director)
Family eating habits Interview/questionnaire (parent)
Foods consumed during school day, times, and portion sizes 24-hour recall (student); interview/questionnaire (parent)
Foods other than USDA school meals, their sources (e.g., a la carte foods, vending machines, fundraisers), and frequency of consumptionInterview/questionnaire (food service manager; school principal); a la carte checklist
National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program participation ratesInterview/questionnaire (SFA director)
Nutritional quality of meals offered to students in public schools, as compared with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, School Meals Initiative for Healthy Children (SMI) standards, and other established benchmarks (calculated).Interview/questionnaire (food service manager); 1-week menu analysis
Parent perceptions of the USDA meal programInterview/questionnaire (parent)
Prices charged for full- and reduced-price school mealsInterview/questionnaire (food service manager)
Regular eating habitsInterview (adolescent student)
School food policies (e.g., schedules, nutrition education)Interview/questionnaire (school principal)
School menu planning practicesInterview/questionnaire (food service manager; SFA director)
Student perceptions of the USDA meal programInterview/questionnaire (student)
Types, servings, and portion sizes of food served as part of reimbursable program foodInterview/questionnaire (food service manager); 1-week menu analysis)
Use of foods from commercial vendorsInterview/questionnaire (food service manager)

Physical Activity-Related

NameMethods of Assessment
Physical activitiesInterview/questionnaire (adolescent student; parent)
Television and computer useInterview/questionnaire (adolescent student)


NameMethods of Assessment


NameMethods of Assessment
City or metropolitan statistical areasInterview/questionnaire


NameMethods of Assessment
School enrollment and nutrition program participation ratesInterview/questionnaire (school staff; district staff)

Data Access and Cost

Data Availability

SNDA public-use data can be obtained from:

Office of Research and Analysis
Food and Nutrition Service, USDA
3101 Park Center Drive
Alexandria, VA 22302
+1 (703) 305-2017


Free of charge.

Special Note(s)

Summaries of the data are available online on the SNDA website: SNDA IV Summary of Findings.


Geocode Variable(s)

City, metropolitan statistical area.

Existing Linkages

None noted.

Selected Publications


Dwyer J. The School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study. Special journal issue, including 14 papers, focused on SNDA-I and its policy implications. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1995;61:173S-257S. Full text of all papers.

Mathematica Policy Research. New Data on the Nutritional Quality of School Lunches. 2013.

Story M. The school food environment, children's diets, and obesity: Findings from the Third School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study. Special journal issue, including 13 papers. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2009;109(2Suppl):S3-S135.



SNDA IV Summary