Are Packed Lunches Really Healthier Than School Lunches?

The lunch you pack every morning for your kid is far superior to the lunches served at school, right?

Not exactly, according to a new study published in the November-December issue of the Journal of Nutritional Education and Behavior. In fact, researchers found that lunches packed at home are generally not as nutritious as school lunches, reports CBS News.

Researchers compared over 750 school meals to more than 560 packed meals prepared for children in Pre-K and kindergarten in three different schools, analyzing them for their nutritional value over a five-day school week. While there were some very healthy packed lunches in the mix, overall they were pretty unhealthy.


On average, the school lunches studied came in at 512 calories, with home-packed lunches at 608 calories. Protein in school meals was about 26 grams compared to only 18 grams in packed lunches. The packed lunches were also less likely to include fruit, vegetables, sugar-free drinks. And they had less fiber, vitamin A, and calcium then the school lunches, according to Alisha Farris, the lead researcher on the study.

Sodium content was higher in the school lunches, probably due to the entree item, but school lunch standards are beginning to phase in new sodium standards in the 2014 to 2015 guidelines. The researchers for this study used the 2012-2013 National School Lunch Program Standards as a guide.

Photo: Getty