Objective: To compare the key differences between school lunches and packed lunches as consumed in a nationally representative sample of primary schools, 6-8 months after the nutrient-based standards for school lunch became mandatory.
Design: Data on 6580 pupils' school lunches and 3422 pupils' packed lunches were collected between February and April 2009 from pupils attending primary schools in England. Fieldwork was conducted over five consecutive school days. Fieldworkers randomly selected ten pupils taking a school lunch and five pupils bringing a packed lunch each day at each school, and recorded and weighed all food and drink items consumed, as well as any leftovers.
Setting: A nationally representative sample of 136 state-maintained primary schools in England.
Subjects: A total of 10 002 pupils aged 4-12 years.
Results: Mean intakes of protein, fat, saturated fat and vitamin C from both types of lunch met the nutrient-based standards. Pupils taking school lunches on average consumed significantly more protein, NSP, vitamin A, folate and Zn and less fat, saturated fat, non-milk extrinsic sugars (NMES), Na, Ca, vitamin C and Fe than pupils taking packed lunches. Energy intakes were low in both groups.
Conclusions: Packed lunches were less likely to accord with food-based or nutrient-based standards than school lunches. Higher levels of Na, NMES, fat and percentage energy from saturated fat emphasise the difficulties associated with optimising nutrient intakes from packed lunches.