U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government


Main content area

Parental and family predictors of fruits and vegetables in elementary school children's home-packed lunches across a school week

Sutter, Carolyn, Taylor, Jennifer C., Nishina, Adrienne, Ontai, Lenna L.
Appetite 2019 v.133 pp. 423-432
children, elementary students, food intake, foods, fruits, longitudinal studies, lunch, models, nutrition education, nutrition knowledge, nutritive value, outreach, parenting, questionnaires, regression analysis, vegetables
Home-packed lunches have been found to be of lower nutritional quality than school-bought lunches, yet little is known about family-based factors associated with lunch packing. The current exploratory study examines parental and family predictors of fruits and vegetables packed in lunches, hypothesizing parents' nutrition knowledge and authoritative parenting as well as children's involvement in lunch decisions would relate to packing more fruits and vegetables, while financial difficulties would relate to packing fewer. Ninety parent-child dyads from 4th-6th grade participated for 5 consecutive school days. Lunch contents were recorded using a digital imaging procedure to capture the number of days a fruit or vegetable was packed, and servings of fruits and vegetables in lunches each day. Parents completed family and parenting questionnaires and daily reports of child involvement in lunch decisions. Count-based regression models and longitudinal analyses within a multilevel modeling framework were used to examine predictors of lunch contents. Higher nutrition knowledge was associated with packing more fruit across the week and more vegetables on Monday. Authoritative parenting was associated with packing fewer vegetables on Monday, but more servings across the week. Financial stress was related to higher rates of never packing vegetables and when vegetables were packed including fewer servings, while child involvement in lunch decisions was associated with packing more fruits across the week, packing vegetables on more days and more servings of vegetables on Monday. Findings suggest parental and family factors impact the foods in packed lunches, with implications for children's dietary intake at school. Outreach programs can help parents pack more fruits and vegetables by providing nutrition education and suggestions for affordable, healthy lunch options as well as encouraging child involvement in the lunch packing process.