School lunch is back in the news again but for a different reason. While there's been a lot of hoopla about whether or not kids are eating and enjoying the new healthy school lunches being served in the cafeteria (recent research suggests they are), a new study conducted in Massachusetts investigated the quality of the lunches being packed from home.
The results of this study published in the Journal of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed that the majority of the lunches packed from home flunked when it came to providing a nutritionally balanced meal according to the criteria set forth by the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). The NSLP requires that the school lunches contain servings from all the five food groups (fruit, vegetables, grains, protein, and milk). The standards are in place to ensure that children have access to a healthy lunch.
In this study, researchers at Tufts University analyzed the lunch components of over 600 third and fourth graders in six Eastern Massachusetts public school districts. The results showed that none of the lunches packed from home contained servings from all the food groups. In fact, only 27 percent of the lunches contained 3 or more food groups. The typical lunch carried to school by the kids contained a sandwich, snack food such as chips, and water.
While water was the most common beverage at lunch, sugar-sweetened beverages were a very close second. Calcium-rich milk was MIA in the majority of the lunches, which is unfortunate as many children are falling short of their daily calcium needs. According to Kristie Hubbard, Ph.D, RD, and lead author of the study, ďit appears that parents are facing some challenges when packing lunch. More education is needed to help them plan and pack a healthy lunch that kids will eat.Ē
The results of this study do not surprise Wesley Delbridge, RD, Director of the Food and Nutrition Department at Chandler Unified School District in Arizona, and an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) spokesperson. ďThis study involved educated parents who care about their elementary school-age children, but still at their best, are not coming close, nutritionally, to what is being served in the NSLP. The parents appear to be packing a lunch that is what the kids like, or being marketed to, but is not as nutritious as the school lunch that is being served.Ē
If you are stuck on ideas on what to pack for a healthy lunch that kids will eat, try these recipes from AND. You may need to add a piece of fruit, such as a clementine or grapes and handful of baby carrots along with some money for milk, but these easy-to-make lunches could help start off the school year on a healthier note:
Donít forget the cold pack to keep the lunch in the lunchbox safe until itís eaten.
Be well, Joan
Follow Joan on Twitter at: @JoanSalgeBlake