[Skip to Navigation]
January 2015

Is Lunch From Home Better Than the School Cafeteria?A Look at the New School Lunch Criteria

Author Affiliations
  • 1Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • 2Department of Pediatrics, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
JAMA Pediatr. 2015;169(1):16-17. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.2469

In this issue of JAMA Pediatrics, Caruso and Cullen1 describe the nutritional quality and cost of lunch brought from home by elementary and intermediate school–aged children in Houston, Texas. As they remind us, this component of the school food environment is basically avoided by public health policy and rarely addressed by investigators. The authors conducted an observational study in 1 school district including 12 schools (8 elementary, 4 intermediate) in the fall of 2011. A total of 243 elementary and 95 intermediate school student meals from home were assessed in both low-income and middle-income schools. Foods and the amounts eaten were documented with direct observation by well-trained observers. The nutrient content and the food groups were compared with the US Department of Agriculture guidelines released in 2012 for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).2 These new national guidelines are in a several-year implementation phase. Federal reimbursement for school lunch requires that schools adhere to these national guidelines; more than 99% of public schools and most private schools participate in this important child nutrition program.3 However, lunch brought from home is not addressed by federal guidelines; the general assumption is that home-prepared lunch will be as healthful as school lunch and possibly better.

Add or change institution