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Study finds lunches brought from home did not meet National School Lunch Program guidelines.

In a study of lunches brought from home at elementary and middle schools in the Houston area, researchers at the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital found that the lunches did not meet National School Lunch Program guidelines. Their report appears today in JAMA Pediatrics.

“Most studies focus on the foods provided by the schools; but many children bring their lunches from home. Lunches from home should contain healthy foods and help children meet national dietary recommendations,” said Dr. Karen Cullen, professor of pediatrics at Baylor and senior author of the study.

Researchers examined lunches that were brought from home by 242 elementary and 95 middle school students. Nutrient and food group content of the lunches were assessed and compared with current National School Lunch Program guidelines. Per-serving prices for each item were averaged.

The study found that lunches from home had more sodium and fewer servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and milk. About 90 percent of lunches contained desserts, snack chips and sweetened beverages, which are not permitted in reimbursable school meals. The average cost of an elementary lunch from home was $1.93 and $1.76 for the intermediate school students.

“These results suggest that lunches from home may be an important area in need of budget–friendly interventions,” said Cullen.

Michelle L. Caruso from the Houston Department of Health and Human Services also took part in the study.

The study was funded in part by federal funds from the USDA/ARS under Cooperative Agreement No. 6250-51000-053. The work was also supported by grant RO1HD068349 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development.