Packed lunches worse for kids than school dinners, study finds

You may not have the best memories of school dinners, but things have changed.

While many parents feel they’re giving their children a healthier option with a packed lunch, studies have found that school dinners are usually better.

A study published in the journal BMJ Open shows that packed lunches are on average worse nutritionally than meals offered by schools, with the amount of essential nutrients in them falling between 2006 and 2016.

The study, which looked at data from 76 schools in England, found that although the overall amount of sugar in packed lunches had fallen, many contained foods still too high in sugar, salt or fat.

Some things never change though – with the amount of fruit and vegetables barely changing over that decade.

While no legislation exists for packed lunches, leaving parents free to choose what to include in them, in 2006 mandatory rules were introduced in England governing nutritional quality for school-served meals.

Fruit, vegetables, starch, protein and dairy must be included at each meal and sweets, savoury snacks and sugary drinks are restricted.

The study found that most sandwiches were made with white bread and more than half of lunch boxes contained crisps or other savoury snacks, with around one in three containing a chocolate biscuit.

Around four in 10 lunchboxes also contained sugary squash or a carton of fruit drink in 2016, although this was lower than in 2006.

The study, led by the School of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Leeds, concluded: “Packed lunches remain low quality with few meeting standards set for school meals.

“Although some children’s packed lunches contain healthy foods, packed lunches continue to be dominated by sweet and savoury snack foods and sugary drinks.

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