Quality and cost of student lunches brought from home

Michelle L Caruso, The University of Texas School of Public Health


This study examined the quality and cost of lunches brought from home by students from 12 schools (4 intermediate/8 elementary) in one Houston area school district. In the fall of 2011, 243 elementary and 95 intermediate students were anonymously observed during lunch. Foods brought from home and amounts eaten were recorded along with student grade level and gender. Data were entered into NDSR diet analysis software. Nutrient and food group content were calculated and compared to current National School Lunch Program (NSLP) guidelines. A grocery list was prepared from foods brought from home. Per-serving prices for each item were collected from 3 grocery stores in the study area. Lunches brought from home compared unfavorably to current NSLP nutrition standards, which enable children to meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. As provided, lunches from home contained more average sodium and fewer servings of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fluid milk than school meal standards. On average, lunches from home also contained ½ serving of dessert, ⅔ serving of chips, and 4 ounces of sweetened beverage, which are items that are not permitted for reimbursable school meals. Cost of packed lunches averaged $1.93 for elementary and $1.76 for intermediate students. Low-income intermediate students had significantly higher priced ($1.94) lunches than their peers ($1.63). Packed lunch quality and cost should be further investigated, but these results document the need for methods and strategies to enable families to prepare healthy lunches from home for students.

Subject Area

Nutrition|Public health

Recommended Citation

Caruso, Michelle L, "Quality and cost of student lunches brought from home" (2013). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI1552312.