Objective: School-based interventions and policies encourage youths to include and consume fruits and vegetables at lunchtime via school lunches, but limited research has examined how these behaviours compare when youths have home-packed lunches. The objective of the present study was to compare fruit and vegetable contents and consumption among students having school or home-packed lunches over the school week.
Design: Participants were observed over five consecutive days at school lunchtime. Trained analysts estimated students' lunchtime fruit and vegetable contents and consumption using digital imaging. Mixed models examined associations between fruit and vegetable dietary behaviours and lunch source (school v. home-packed), controlling for student gender, grade and school.
Setting: Three elementary schools in northern California, USA.ParticipantsFourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students (nchildren 315; nobservations 1421).
Results: Students were significantly less likely to have and to consume fruits and vegetables (all P<0·05) when having home-packed lunches, compared with when having school lunches. Among those who did have or did consume these foods, having a home-packed lunch was associated with consuming significantly less fruit (P<0·05) but no differences for other dietary outcomes.
Conclusions: The study adds to a growing body of literature indicating shortfalls in fruit and vegetable contents and consumption associated with having a home-packed lunch, relative to having a school lunch. Findings suggest that school-based interventions, particularly when targeting home-packed lunches, should focus on whether or not these foods are included and consumed, with less emphasis on quantities.
Keywords: Dietary behaviour; Digital imaging; Fruits and vegetables; Packed lunch; School nutrition.