The quality of school lunch consumed reflects overall eating patterns in 11-16-year-old schoolchildren in Finland.
OBJECTIVE: To explore how the quality of school lunch consumed reflected overall eating patterns in school-aged children. DESIGN: Children filled in an Internet-based questionnaire about their eating patterns. The children were then divided into balanced and imbalanced school lunch eaters on the basis of their responses in the questionnaire. A balanced school lunch consisted of, by the definition used in the present study, a main dish, salad and bread. SETTING: Eleven primary schools and one middle school in eastern Finland. SUBJECTS: A total of 531 schoolchildren (247 boys and 284 girls) aged 11-16 years. RESULTS: The school lunch was balanced in 46·5 % of children. Eating a balanced school lunch was associated with overall healthier eating patterns outside school. Children who ate a balanced school lunch had more regular meal times and consumed healthier snacks. They ate fruit or berries and vegetables, dairy products and wholegrain foods more often, consumed fewer salty snacks, pizzas, meat pies and drank fewer soft drinks and energy drinks. Their eating patterns at home were also healthier, with vegetables being offered at every family dinner and fruit being offered daily, whereas soft drinks were offered seldom. CONCLUSIONS: The choices made by children in their school lunch reflect the overall eating patterns among school-aged children. Eating a balanced school lunch is associated with more regular meal patterns, the availability of healthier foods at home and an overall healthier diet, suggesting that healthy eating patterns are learnt at home.