As public schools strive to follow new national guidelines in offering breakfast and lunch to their students, a nutrition leader who helped develop those guidelines provides perspective on a new study analyzing the other lunches — those that children bring from home.
Virginia Stallings, MD, the Jean Cortner Endowed Chair in Pediatric Gastroenterology and Director of the Nutrition Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, was committee chair of the 2009 Institute of Medicine committee that proposed updated guidelines for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which was passed by Congress in 2011 as the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.
In an editorial in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association-Pediatrics, Dr. Stallings comments on a study in the same issue by Michelle L. Caruso, MPH, RD, and Karen W Cullen, DrPh, RD, analyzing the nutritional quality and cost of lunch brought from home by elementary and intermediate school-age children in one school district in Houston. The authors found that, compared to the NSLP benchmarks, home lunch was of lower quality and contained more sodium and fewer servings of vegetables and fat-free or 1 percent milk.
These findings, say Dr. Stallings, contradict the general assumption that a home-prepared lunch will be as healthful as the school lunch, and possibly better. She recommends encouraging families to send lunches that are similar to the NSLP diet patterns and health promotion goals.
“Children must have a healthful breakfast and lunch to be ready to learn. Ensuring they have access to the right foods and education about food will prepare them to make healthy choices today and throughout their lifetime,” Stallings said.