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School lunches in the Republic of Ireland: a comparison of the nutritional quality of adolescents’ lunches sourced from home or purchased at school or ‘out’ at local food outlets

  • Sarah Browne (a1), Anthony Staines (a1), Carol Barron (a1), Veronica Lambert (a1), Davide Susta (a2) and Mary Rose Sweeney (a1)...
Abstract Objective

To compare the energy, nutrient and food group compositions of three sources of school-day lunches among students in five secondary schools in the Republic of Ireland (ROI).


Cross-sectional study conducted between October 2012 and March 2013. Students completed self-report food diaries over two school days. The energy, nutrient, nutrient density and food group composition of school-day lunches from home, school and ‘out’ in local food outlets were compared using ANCOVA and Tukey’s Honest Significant Difference post hoc analysis.


Five secondary schools in the ROI.


Male and female students aged 15–17 years (n 305).


Six hundred and fifteen lunches (376 home lunches, 115 school lunches and 124 lunches sourced ‘out’ in the local environment) were analysed. School and ‘out’ purchased lunches were significantly higher than packed lunches from home in energy (2047 kJ (489 kcal), 2664 kJ (627 kcal), 1671 kJ (399 kcal), respectively), total fat (23·5 g, 30·1 g, 16·6 g, respectively) and free (added) sugars (12·6 g, 19·3 g, 7·4 g, respectively). More home lunches contained more fruit, wholemeal breads, cheese and red meat than lunches from school or ‘out’. Meat products, chips and high-calorie beverages were sourced more frequently at school or ‘out’ than home. Fibre and micronutrient contents of lunches from all sources were low.


Home-sourced lunches had the healthiest nutritional profile in terms of energy and macronutrients. Foods high in energy, fat and free sugars associated with school and local food outlets are of concern given the public health focus to reduce their consumption. While school food should be improved, all sources of lunches need to be considered when addressing the dietary behaviours of secondary-school students.

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