Quality and cost of student lunches brought from home.JAMA Pediatr 2015; 169(1):86-90JP
The nutritional quality and cost of lunches brought from home are overlooked and understudied aspects of the school food environment.
To examine the quality and cost of lunches brought from home by elementary and intermediate school students.
DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS
An observational study was conducted in 12 schools (8 elementary and 4 intermediate) in one Houston, Texas, area school district from October 6, 2011, to December 5, 2011. Participants included 242 elementary and 95 intermediate school students who brought lunches from home.
Lunches brought from home.
MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES
Foods brought and amounts eaten were recorded along with student grade level and sex. Nutrient and food group content were calculated and compared with current National School Lunch Program (NSLP) guidelines. Per-serving prices for each item were collected from 3 grocery stores in the study area and averaged.
Compared with the NSLP guidelines, lunches brought from home contained more sodium (1110 vs ≤640 mg for elementary and 1003 vs ≤710 mg for intermediate students) and fewer servings of fruits (0.33 cup for elementary and 0.29 cup for intermediate students vs 0.50 cup per the NSLP guidelines), vegetables (0.07 cup for elementary and 0.11 cup for intermediate students vs 0.75 cup per the NSLP guidelines), whole grains (0.22-oz equivalent for elementary and 0.31-oz equivalent for intermediate students vs 0.50-oz minimum per the NLSP guidelines), and fluid milk (0.08 cup for elementary and 0.02 cup for intermediate students vs 1 cup per the NSLP guidelines). About 90% of lunches from home contained desserts, snack chips, and sweetened beverages, which are not permitted in reimbursable school meals. The cost of lunches from home averaged $1.93 for elementary and $1.76 for intermediate students. Students from lower-income intermediate schools brought significantly higher-priced ($1.94) lunches than did students from middle-income schools ($1.63).
CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE
Lunches brought from home compared unfavorably with current NSLP guidelines. Strategies are needed to improve the nutritional quality of lunches brought from home.