School-based child nutrition programs provide students with meals and snacks that align with guidelines for a healthy eating pattern. However, participation is not universal, and research on the determinants of food selection is needed to improve school nutrition practices and policies. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationships between grade level (i.e., grade school, middle school, or high school) as well as meal participation category (i.e., only breakfast, only lunch, or both) and food trying and liking in a large urban school district. Outcomes were measured using an online survey completed by students from 2nd through 12th grade (n
= 21,540). Breakfast and lunch item liking scores were higher among the grade school and middle school students than among the high school students. Breakfast and lunch liking scores were also higher among those who participated in both breakfast and lunch as opposed to those who only participated in one meal. Food item liking scores were positively correlated with the percentage of students who had tried the particular foods (r
= 0.52, p
< 0.001), and the number of foods tried was dependent on both grade level and meal participation category (F(4, 21,531) = 10.994, p
< 0.001). In this survey of students, both grade level and meal participation category were found to be related to the liking of foods, while foods that were tried more often tended to be liked more. Future studies should consider grade level and meal participation when exploring student preferences. School nutrition programs should also consider these factors when assessing satisfaction.
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