Only 1% of primary schoolchildren’s packed lunches meet the nutritional standards set for school meals in England, a study has revealed.
Crisps, sweets, and sugary drinks still dominate over fruit and veg despite the government’s drive to make lunchboxes healthier, a BMJ publication reports.
The UK authors examined the contents of 1,300 schoolchildren’s lunchboxes.
Half of UK schoolchildren eat a packed lunch brought from home, equating to 5.5 billion packed lunches a year.
All of the children in the study, who were aged between eight and nine, took a packed lunch to school on at least one day of the week. Almost nine out of 10 ate a packed lunch every day.
"There are many initiatives going on to improve our diet and exercise, but change won’t happen overnight"
Lead researcher Charlotte Evans
Over a quarter of the children had a packed lunch containing sweets, savoury snacks, and sugary drinks – things banned under rules on healthy prepared meals for local authority schools in England, which came into force in 2006.
These standards say school lunches must contain protein-rich foods such as chicken and low fat starchy foods like pasta, as well as vegetables, fruit and dairy products.
Only one-in-five packed lunches contained any vegetables or salad, the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health reported.
Although half the children were provided with fruit, it was the least likely food in their boxes to be eaten, while confectionery was nearly always gobbled up.
Only 1.1% of the children’s packed lunches met all the required nutritional standards for school meals, which include keeping the contents low in fat and salt and high in essential vitamins and nutrients.
Lead researcher Charlotte Evans, of Leeds University, said, sadly, the findings were not surprising.
"It reflects the typical diet of the whole population. Most adults would also have crisps or a chocolate bar and not enough fruit or veg in their lunchbox.
"There are many initiatives going on to improve our diet and exercise, but change won’t happen overnight."
She said banning certain foods from lunchboxes could help, but said this policy could backfire.
"We’ve seen it with sweets, when schools have banned them. The children end up bringing more cakes and biscuits with them instead."
Judy Hargadon of The School Food Trust, an organisation set up to improve the nutrition of school food, said: "Now that nutrient-based standards are in place, parents can be sure that the average school lunch is offering the right mix of energy and 13 nutrients that children need – so we’re encouraging more families to give them a try."
She said the trust had sample menus to help parents. </p
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