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J Acad Nutr Diet. 2014 Sep;114(9):1424-31. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2014.05.010. Epub 2014 Jul 16.

What's in children's backpacks: foods brought from home.


Forty-one percent of elementary schoolchildren bring lunch to school on any given day. Forty-five percent bring snacks. Surprisingly, little is known about the foods and beverages they bring. This cross-sectional analysis of baseline data from the GREEN (Growing Right: Eco-friendly Eating and Nutrition) Project Lunch Box Study sought to characterize foods and beverages brought from home to school by elementary schoolchildren and compare the quality of packed lunches with National School Lunch Program standards and packed snacks with Child and Adult Care Food Program requirements. Lunches and snacks from 626 elementary schoolchildren were assessed and evaluated using digital photography and a supplemental food checklist. Food and beverage types most likely to be provided for lunch were sandwiches (59%), snack foods (42%), fruit (34%), desserts (28%), water (28%), and sugar-sweetened beverages (24%). Twenty-seven percent of lunches met at least three of five National School Lunch Program standards. At snack, snack foods (62%), desserts (35%), and sugar-sweetened beverages (35%) were more common than fruits (30%), dairy foods (10%), and vegetables (3%). Only 4% of snacks met two of four Child and Adult Care Food Program standards. Future research is needed to understand the multiple determinants of food-packing behavior, including constraints faced by families. School wellness policies should consider initiatives that work collaboratively with parents to improve the quality of foods brought from home.


Children; Food-based standards; Nutritional quality; Packed lunches; School nutrition

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