Elementary Parent Perceptions of Packing Lunches and the National School Lunch Program

Alisha R Farris, Sarah Misyak, Kiyah J Duffey, Naama Atzaba-Poria, Kathy Hosig, George C Davis, Mary M McFerren, Elena L Serrano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose/Objectives: In 2010, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act updated the nutrition standards for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). The improved standards impact children who participate in the NSLP, but not the children who are bringing a packed lunch from home. Recent research suggests packed lunches are lower in nutritional quality than NSLP lunches. The purpose of this study was to explore parental factors influencing child participation in the NSLP and/or packing lunches from home and to examine if differences exist by school level free and reduced lunch (FRL) eligibility. Methods: Parents from four elementary schools representing the two highest (65.5% and 51.9%) and lowest (19.2% and 18.8%) FRL eligibility rates for a rural county of Virginia were provided a questionnaire assessing perceptions of NSLP and packed lunches. Mann-Whitney-Wilcoxon tests, t-tests, and descriptive statistics were used to evaluate differences. Written comments were coded by two researchers, common themes identified, and the frequency of themes calculated. Results: A total of 516 surveys were collected, 55.2% from schools with higher FRL eligibility (n = 285); 44.8% from schools with lower FRL eligibility. The two most frequent motivational factors for NSLP participation across all schools were convenience and saving time through participation. Motivational factors for packing lunch differed by FRL eligibility. The most frequent motivators were variety of foods, nutritional quality, and providing organic or sustainable foods (lower FRL eligibility schools), while factors for higher FRL schools were child pickiness, variety of foods, and nutritional quality. Applications to Child Nutrition Professionals: These results can be used to develop nutrition education intervention or policies highlighting the nutritional benefits of participating in the NSLP, improve the nutrition quality of packed lunches, and/or improve school wellness policies related to school meals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of child nutrition & management
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2016


  • Parent Influence
  • Rural Schools
  • Student Participation
  • Eligibility
  • Nutrition
  • Elementary School Students
  • Attitude Measures
  • Standards
  • Likert Scales
  • Federal Legislation
  • Surveys
  • Mann Whitney U Test
  • Motivation
  • Lunch Programs
  • Questionnaires
  • Low Income Groups
  • Nonparametric Statistics
  • Statistical Analysis
  • Virginia
  • Food


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