A new study has determined that the lunches kids bring from home are not as healthy as those served in school cafeterias. Researchers say that in general, lunches brought from home contain more salt, fewer fruits, vegetables and whole grains than compared with the standard meals provided in the cafeterias in many school districts.
Moreover, in the two month study of 300 elementary and middle school students in one Houston school district shows that most if not all bagged lunches from home included a variety of sugary drinks, chips and desserts that are no longer part of lunches prepared in schools.
The results have not surprised those conducting the study since parents will usually pack lunches with what their kids like. Most studies on the subject have drawn similar conclusions no matter where the study or the school district. Most agree that parents need to re-think what they put in their kids lunches to take to school.
That’s especially true as the meals served in schools across the country are now healthier. Since 2012, schools have been required to meet a set of nutritional standards to qualify for federal funding reimbursements. These new standards for school lunches are based on the recommended nutritional guidelines for everyone, not just kids.
Under the new standards, prepared lunches must include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, a meat or meat alternative and low fat milk. Meals are also required to be low in sodium and saturated fats. But compared with the prepared meals served in school, lunches brought from home are not even close to the recommended nutritional guidelines.
For the most part, they have more fat and sugar and less protein, fiber and calcium than the prepared school meals. Under the school lunch guidelines, kids are supposed to have at least three-quarters of a cup of vegetables with lunch. But in the study, the average elementary bag lunch from home has about one tenth of that. When it comes to sodium, lunches from home nearly double the recommended limit in school lunches of 640 mg.
Further, 90 percent of all lunches coming from home include deserts, sugar-filled drinks and chips which kids always seem to finish. As for the vegetables packed from home, between 20- 30 percent get tossed.
Many admit parents face difficulties packing a lunch for their kids but they can still provide better and healthier choices without being unyielding. Some even believe parents should have kids be part of the meal planning process. They should ask their kids the kinds of fruits they want so there won’t be surprise when lunchtime comes.
However, some believe parents still may be better off with the school lunch, especially those who don’t have the time for meal planning since their kids will be provided a hot meal that is much lower in sodium and fat and includes cooked vegetables. Schools are also trying harder to bring more culturally diverse meal choices to the lunch program which can be even more beneficial.