Hero Image

Healthier brown bag lunches for preschool children

The Issue

Packing healthy lunches for children to take to preschool can be a particular challenge to parents. Consideration must be given to selecting foods that are nutritious, easy to transport, appealing to young children and will not support the growth of food-poisoning bacteria. Since lunch typically supplies one-fourth to one-third of daily nutrient intake, a program that helps parents pack healthy lunches for their preschoolers could contribute greatly to healthier diets.

What Has ANR Done?

An observational study collected nutrition and food safety data on 582 brown bag lunches packed by parents for their preschool children. The data indicated that 60 percent of the lunches included three or less food groups; 81 percent included low-nutrient foods (the average was 1.46 per lunch); and 23 percent of the lunches could become unsafe by the time they are eaten.  To address these nutrition and safety concerns, five educational handouts and a poster in English and Spanish were developed to assist parents in packing healthy lunches. The Lunch Box handouts were provided to parents through their child’s preschool, which is an ideal place for parents to learn positive ways to contribute to their child’s overall health and well-being. More than 3,600 sets of the handouts have been provided to parents of preschool children in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties during 2008. The handouts may also be printed free of charge from the ANR Publications Web site at: http://ucanr.org/lunch.

The Payoff

The Lunch Box Program helps parents pack healthier lunches

A two-month evaluation assessed the nutritional and safety qualities of lunches before and after the educational program. Results indicated the program influenced parents to improve both the nutritional content and safety. Positive changes included adding more whole grain and protein foods. These parents also decreased the amount of low-nutrients foods (fruit drinks, cookies, chips, etc.) and made the children's lunches safer by including a frozen ice pack and/or selecting foods that would not promote the growth of bacteria.

Clientele Testimonial

Parents wrote the following comments:
"These are vey good pamphlets. Tons of valuable info presented in a simple and clear manner."
"Excellent info, especially for parents who are just beginning to pack lunches for their children."


Shirley Peterson, (805) 781-5951, sspeterson@ucdavis.edu