Dissecting Your Child's School Lunch

School Age

Thanks to new federal guidelines, school lunches are actually more nutritious, tasty and affordable than ever.

To find out why the number of parents packing lunch at home is growing, we asked them to share their thoughts and open their kids' lunchboxes for a peek inside. Then we compared home-packed nutrition and affordability to the school lunch line.

A closer look at school nutrition

School meals have gotten a real makeover in the last few years, with schools across Georgia working hard to serve healthy and tasty food to your kids every day. Schools are now required to provide all components of a balanced plate, including whole grains, veggies, fruits, protein and dairy. Each tray will include both a fruit and a vegetable. And most of our kids don’t eat enough of those two food groups.

Here's the shocking truth: Research shows, home-packed lunches are typically less healthy than school-bought.* And they cost more.

*Johnston CA, Moreno JP, El-Mubasher A, and Woehler D. (August 2012). School Lunches and Lunches Brought from Home: A Comparative Analysis. Child Obesity Journal.

Home lunches: fewer fruits and veggies

Research shows that compared to kids with a school lunch, children with a lunch from home were significantly less likely to have fruits, veggies and dairy.*

*Johnston CA, Moreno JP, El-Mubasher A, and Woehler D. (August 2012). School Lunches and Lunches Brought from Home: A Comparative Analysis. Child Obesity Journal.

Home lunches: more sugar and fat

Home-packed lunches had significantly more sugar and fat and less protein than school lunches.* Packed lunches typically contain more “junk” food (like chips and crackers) and sweetened beverages (like juices and sports drinks) than cafeteria lunches. Some of the most commonly packed lunch items were chips, fruit drink pouches and packaged lunch/drink combos, which are notoriously high in salt and sugar.

*Johnston CA, Moreno JP, El-Mubasher A, and Woehler D. (August 2012). School Lunches and Lunches Brought from Home: A Comparative Analysis. Child Obesity Journal.

Home lunches are pricier

The average cost of a home-packed lunch with juice is $3.81 a day. By comparison, the cost of a school lunch with milk is about $2.45 a day.

Over the course of the school year, that's a total savings of $240.72. And that doesn't include the cost of paper bags, insulated reusable lunch bags, plastic storage containers or thermal containers, or ice packs. And don't forget those plastic sandwich bags! 

School lunches save time

Packing lunch takes about 10 minutes a day, right? That’s almost 30 hours per school year!

How long does it take to pack lunch if your child is buying at school? Enough said.