Does eating school lunch versus a home-packed lunch impact how much a student eats throughout the rest of the day? Cornell researchers set out to answer this question. Members of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab looked at the results from food diaries of 2,314 children of various ages around the United States. They found that students who brought lunch from home ate 96 more calories at lunch than students who purchased lunch at school. However, those with home prepared lunches then ate fewer calories for an after dinner snack. Therefore, total daily calorie consumption was not significantly different for those who ate lunch from home versus those who bought school lunch.
What are the takeaways for parents and other interested individuals from this research? There’s definitely some good news here, as it seems that the recent focus on making school lunches healthier has resulted in fewer calories in school lunches compared to lunches from home. Demonizing school lunch as the source of all our obesity ills is not fair or accurate. Although total calorie intake evened out over the full day, the higher calorie intake from home lunches is an area that school personnel can address. Educating parents about the components of a healthy school lunch, and encouraging students who bring lunch from home to make sure they include a fruit or vegetable as well as a whole grain, may increase the overall healthiness of lunches from home. Schools can also highlight the healthiness of lunches they serve to encourage more parents to have their child participate in the National School Lunch Program. Many school lunches are a great source of a well-rounded, nutritious meal, and results like those discussed in this article can be leveraged to increase participation and positive buzz for school lunch programs.
Lara Latimer, PhD, Cornell University Food and Brand Lab
Pope, L., Latimer, L., Hanks, A., Wansink, B. Healthier from Home? Lunch Source and Daily Calorie Cycling in Children, poster presentation at the 47th Annual Conference of the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior, June 29, 2014 Madison, WI.