New research suggests that buying school lunch provides excellent nutrition and saves parents money and time. Parents with three children can save up to $1,000 per school year and about two 40-hour work weeks of time by purchasing school lunch instead of packing a lunchbox.

That news comes from Sodexo School Services, Gaithersburg, Md., which says it conducted research for National School Lunch Week, Oct. 12 to 19.

"Our study assessed how much time and money a sampling of families spent on preparing the contents of a lunchbox and we compared it to the nutritional content, price and time savings of a Sodexo school lunch," said Roxanne Moore, registered dietitian and Sodexo's national wellness director. "The Sodexo school lunch won hands down on price, time, nutrient density and variety to satisfy students' need for change."

The research showed that the average home-packed lunch contains a sandwich, usually peanut butter and jelly, a drink, a snack or two, and fruit, either fresh or in pre-packaged containers. The cost to pack this type of lunch can vary from $2.50 to $4.00 or more depending on portions served. The national average price of a school lunch purchased in a cafeteria is $1.80.

The study recommends that the savings could be redirected to provide better nutrition to families on week nights and weekends and could extend a family's grocery budget. Parents in the study group reported spending up to 30 minutes each day preparing and packing their children's lunch. Buying a Sodexo school lunch saves the average family up to $88 and 10 hours per month.

"Families can substitute the time it takes to pack a lunch and use it to be active, read, cook a family meal together or play a game," Moore said. "This balance and good nutrition will benefit children at home and at school."

Sodexo School Services supplies 470 school districts nationwide.