Research Brief| Volume 53, ISSUE 2, P164-173, February 2021

Food Photography as a Tool to Assess Type, Quantity, and Quality of Foods in Parent-Packed Lunches for Preschoolers

Published:November 13, 2020DOI:



      Explore using food photography to assess packed lunches in a university-based Early Childhood Center and contextualize these photographs through parent interviews.


      An explanatory sequential design was used. Packed lunches were photographed to assess the type and quantity of foods offered and consumed by Child and Adult Food Care Program components (fruit, vegetable, grain, and protein) and quality of foods offered using the Healthy Meal Index. Parent interviews aimed to understand motivations and behaviors related to packing lunch.


      Data were collected on 401 lunches. Only 16.2% of lunches met all Child and Adult Food Care Program requirements. Most lunches included fruit (84%) and grains (82%), whereas fewer included vegetables (44%). Portion sizes were large, especially for grains (2.7 ± 1.5 servings). In interviews (n = 24), parents expressed tension between offering healthful items and foods they knew their child would eat, as well as concern about children going hungry.

      Conclusions and Implications

      Food photography is a feasible methodology to capture parent-packed lunches for preschoolers and may have utility in nutrition education, particularly related to age-appropriate portion sizes.

      Key Words

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