Quality and Cost of Student Lunches Brought From Home | Journal Scan

Study Questions:

What is the nutritional quality and cost of lunches brought from home by elementary and intermediate school students?

Methods:

This was an observational study conducted in 12 schools, of which eight were elementary and four were intermediate schools, all in one school district located in Houston, Texas. The study was conducted between October 2011 and December 2011. Participants included 242 elementary and 95 intermediate school students who brought lunches from home. The primary outcomes were recorded foods brought from home including amounts. 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 three grocery stores in the study area and averaged.

Results:

Approximately 5,543 students were enrolled in the elementary schools, of which 242 were students observed for this study, 121 (50.0%) students were male, and 135 (55.8%) students attended a lower-income school. For the intermediate school group, approximately 3,782 students were enrolled in the four schools, of which 95 students were observed for this study, 43 (45.3%) students were male, and 40 (42.1%) students attended a lower-income school. 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:

The authors concluded that lunches brought from home compared unfavorably with current NSLP guidelines. Strategies are needed to improve the nutritional quality of lunches brought from home.

Perspective:

These data support the need for interventions which educate both students and parents on healthy foods to bring to school.

Keywords: Cereals, Food, Fruit, Lunch, Meals, Milk, Nutritive Value, Schools, Snacks, Sodium, Students, Sweetening Agents, Texas, Vegetables


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