Study: brown-bag kids’ lunches worse than school cafeteria food
I worry about my kid’s lunch.
It’s the one meal she eats outside of the home. Until a month ago, I packed her lunch every day except for the sacred Pizza Fridays. Being Japanese, I aspired toward the obento lunches my countrywomen are famous for: little tupperware containers with compartments for seasoned rice balls, vegetables cut in animal shapes and adorable handmade meatballs. (I say aspired; mine usually looked like a sad Play-doh copy.)
But when I learned no one in my daughter’s kindergarten class brown-bagged except for the kid with the strawberry allergy, I decided to try the cafeteria thing. No one wants to be the weird kid with the smelly homemade lunch. I should know: one day my siblings and I opened our paper bags to find our mother had packed us each an octopus sandwich. We’re still in recovery.
My daughter’s elementary school recently overhauled its cafeteria lunch menu to reflect parental concerns about nutritional value. The hot items include minestrone soup, spaghetti meatballs and chicken nuggets. And for the picky eaters, there’s always an optional bagel lunch with carrots, apple and string cheese.
Here’s what my kid eats: a few bites of apple. Chocolate milk. Sometimes, a cookie. I know this because the school sends the rest home so I can witness her failure to consume.
I’m tempted to resume packing her lunch. But wait. A new study in Britain says bagged lunches are worse than cafeteria lunches when it comes to nutritional value.
If the nutritional standards set for school meals were applied to packed lunches only one per cent would comply, the researchers from University of Leeds found.
Sandwiches, sweets, savoury snacks and artificially sweetened drinks were the most common items found in lunch boxes.
Cut us parents a break. We’re not happy about it, but if a little bit of junk food is all our kids will reliably eat, we include it to make sure they’ve got a little something in their tummies.
Anyway, what they’re not saying is how much of the high-nutrition items kids are eating off the cafeteria menu. It’s one thing to provide the tempeh wrap. It’s another to stuff it in their pie-holes. Still, I’m holding off on the octopus sandwich. For now.
UPDATE: Dora Rivas, president of the School Nutrition Association, writes with more news:
In the United States, research also shows the average packed lunch fails to meet nutritional standards for meals provided under the National School Lunch Program. In fact, a recent study found home-packed lunches contain more sodium, less vitamin A, calcium, iron and fiber than school lunches and not enough calories to keep unhealthy snacking tendencies at bay (See http://schoolnutrition.org/Content.aspx?id=13232). Parents should know that school lunches provide healthy food choices at affordable prices, and these meals include the fruits, vegetables and dairy that children need to succeed in school and at home.