Lunches Selected and Consumed from the National School Lunch Program in Schools Designated as HealthierUS School Challenge Schools Are More Nutritious than Lunches Brought from Home

Document Type


Department or Administrative Unit

Nutrition Exercise and Health Sciences

Publication Date

Fall 2014


The purpose of this study was to compare the nutrient content of National School Lunch Program (NSLP) lunches and lunches brought from home (LBFH) lunches in elementary schools participating in the HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC).
Participants included students in grades 2-5 in four Washington state HUSSC elementary schools. Data were collected during the 2011-12 school year. A multiple analysis of variance (MANOVA) followed by post-hoc analyses of multiple t-tests was used to analyze nutrients provided and consumed by students to show differences between NSLP lunches and LBFH. Data were further separated by the child's eligibility status for free and reduced price meals. A MANOVA test followed by post-hoc analyses using multiple t-tests compared differences in mean nutrient amounts between LBFH and NSLP lunches within these groups. The average percentages of NSLP lunches and LBFH meeting School Meal Initiative (SMI) guidelines were compared.
A total of 1,085 lunches were evaluated including 547 NSLP meals from 344 students and 538 LBFH from 276 students. NSLP lunches provided significantly more protein, calcium, iron, cholesterol, sodium, and vitamin C compared to LBFH. Students with NSLP lunches consumed significantly more protein, calcium, iron, cholesterol, sodium, vitamin A, and vitamin C compared to students who had LBFH. Students eligible for free and reduced price (FRP) meals who ate LBFH brought and consumed more calories, fat, and saturated fat. Lunches brought from home were less likely to meet SMI guidelines in nearly all categories.
Applications to the Child Nutrition Professionals
Based on the results from the current study, child nutrition professionals planned and prepared NSLP meals that met the current standards. As a result NSLP lunches were more nutritious than LBFH. While continuing efforts to improve the NSLP, the nutritional quality and content of LBFH should be more extensively studied. Nutrition education regarding LBFH is important for both parents and students. Further research is needed to determine factors affecting choice of LBFH food items.


This article was originally published in The Journal of Child Nutrition & Management. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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The Journal of Child Nutrition & Management