Effect of healthy school lunch provision on dietary lunch quality of children at Dutch primary schools
Introduction: In the Netherlands, there is no practice of school lunch programs at primary schools. Traditionally, children go home for lunch or bring their own packed lunches from home. Since there is a transition towards a continuous time schedule where every child consumes their lunch at school, the provision of a healthy school lunch may be an opportunity to improve dietary intake of primary school children.
The aim of this study is to improve dietary intake of Dutch primary school children by offering a healthy school lunch based on the Dutch dietary guidelines.
Methods: Children at three Dutch primary schools (Amsterdam, Lunteren, Vlaardingen) received a sandwich-based healthy school lunch for a 6-month period. Lunch consumption data was collected at baseline, at 3- and at 6-months by the use of photos of the lunch, as well as 6-months after the intervention.
Results: A total of 250 children participated in the study (58% female, mean age 10.1 years, SD: 1.3). Results show that the percentage of children consuming vegetables at lunch increased from 8% at baseline to 55% at the end of the 6-months intervention. The percentage of children consuming white bread reduced from 28% to 4%, and therewith associated, more children consumed wheat and whole wheat bread (55% at baseline; 87% after 6 months). The percentage of children consuming milk during lunch increased (from 6% to 42%) and the percentage children consuming sugary sweetened drinks during lunch decreased (24% at baseline; 5% after 6 months).
Conclusions: This study showed that introducing a healthy school improved the dietary intake at lunch of Dutch primary school children. At the long term this will decrease their risk of diet related chronic diseases and since children from all socioeconomic backgrounds attend primary schools, the lunch quality may contribute to decreasing socioeconomic inequalities in dietary intake.