We’ll admit it. We’re a little surprised by this information coming out of the Washington Post. While we understand that the nutritional quality of school lunches has received a major upgrade, FoodFacts.com has just assumed that lunches prepared at home and packed in backpacks would still possess greater nutritional value than cafeteria food. It appears this isn’t always the case.
The Post compared 1,300 school cafeteria and brown bag lunches at three Virginia schools. They found that the packed lunches contained more calories, carbs, fat and sugar — as well as less protein, fiber and calcium when compared with the 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.
We get that parents today are busier than ever. The world is on overdrive for most of us as we shoulder more responsibilities than ever before. While that snack-sized bag of chips or Goldfish crackers may be easier to throw in a lunchbox than sliced apples or pears, there are things we just shouldn’t be willing to forego for our kids. There are easy ways to sneak in some additional nutrition with lunch. A wrap instead of a sandwich can house some vegetables. Yogurt and fruit can easily take the place of chips and cookies. Healthy eating habits are what we want instilled in our children from the youngest of ages. It will make a difference in the choices they make for themselves later on and it’s certainly worth the extra effort.
Let’s catch up with school lunches and make sure our kids are eating right — not only when they’re at home — but in the middle of their busy school days as well!