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Researchers from Virginia Tech compared school lunches with packed lunches and found that school lunches have greater nutritional quality. In other words, what appears to be a healthy gesture coming from parents, might as well not bring the required nutritional values children actually need with it.
The researchers analyzed 1,314 lunches consumed at three rural elementary schools in Virginia. Of these lunches, 57.2% were school lunches and 42.8% were packed lunches. Each researcher was allocated a group of around 10 elementary school children, and the researchers were required to monitor what foods and drinks each child ate during the lunch period of 5 consecutive school days. What they found is that the packed lunches had more fat, and included more desserts and sugary drinks than the school lunches did, the researchers found.
“Ours is the first study comparing packed lunches to NSLP lunches over a five-day period among pre-K and kindergarten students following the implementation of new nutrition standards,” said lead author Alisha R. Farris, MS, RD. “We found that both packed and school lunches almost entirely met nutrition standards, except school lunches were below energy and iron recommendations, whereas packed lunches exceeded fat and saturated fat recommendations.”
The quality of school lunches has been a major focus in recent years. In 2012, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) updated the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) guidelines, setting out a number of recommendations with the aim of offering healthier food choices to children at school. As part of the guidelines, the USDA recommend that schools should ensure students are offered fruits and vegetables every day, are offered fat-free or low-fat milk varieties, given a choice of whole-grain rich foods and are served the correct food portion size, based on their age.
Fortunately it appears that these guidelines have increased consumption of fruits and vegetables among low-income students, according to a Medical News Today report on a study from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, MA, made back in March 2014.
On the there hand, sodium content, however, was found to be much higher in school lunches that packed lunches, even though the team says packed lunches were more likely to contain processed foods. What is more, school lunches were found to contain lower levels of vitamin C and iron than packed lunches.
This new study was published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
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