Packed lunches are often more unhealthy than school lunches, report finds

SHAFAQNA –  School lunches often get criticized for being unhealthy, but lunches packed at home can be just as lacking in nutrition, according to a Washington Post report.

Although many schools serve up notoriously unhealthy options such as corn dogs, nachos, and other fried foods, the Post found that busy parents weren’t doing a much better job in packing their own kids’ lunches — and in fact, the lunches were usually less healthy.

Based on 1,300 school and parent-provided lunches in three Virginia schools, packed lunched had more calories, carbs, fat, and sugar, and less protein, fiber, and calcium compared to National School Lunch Program meals.

The 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act require schools to increase fruits, veggies, whole grains, and low-fat milk; reduce sodium and saturated fat in the foods they serve; and meet nutrition needs for schoolchildren. Parent-packed meals do not have to meet any guidelines. About 90 percent of schools reported that they met these standards for the most recent school year, up from just 14 percent four years ago.

About 40 percent of children bring a packed lunch to school. However, the Post found that lunches from home contained more desserts, unhealthy snack items like chips, sugar-sweetened beverages, and fewer healthy items like fruits and veggies.

The report is in line with a recent study of schools in Massachusetts, which found that only 27 percent of the packed lunches met at least three of the five federal standards.

Parents can improve the quality of their lunches by including fresh fruit and vegetables in each meal, substituting a sugary drink for water or milk, and get rid of desserts in favor of a fruit. They should also involve their children in making decisions on what to eat, and help encourage them to eat healthier foods by giving them a choice between healthy options.

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