Out of the 50 million school children that attend elementary and secondary public schools in the United States, a study has revealed that 60% of the kids eat their school lunch and the remaining 40% eat packed lunches brought from home – but that is not all – researchers found that school lunches are more nutritional and contain essential nutrients than home packed meals.
The researchers adopted the National School Lunch Program Standards as the guide in analyzing the nutritional content of 750 school meals and 560 home-packed lunches in three schools for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten pupils over a 5-day period, and they found that school lunches were higher in quality nutrients than home-made lunches.
Alisha Farris, a Ph.D candidate at the Virginia Tech University who happens to be the lead researcher and author states that “we found that packed lunches were of less nutritional quality than school lunches.” According to her, most lunches packed from home contained more calories, fat, saturated fat, sugar, Vitamin C, and iron than those of school meals; and food prepared at home for pupils lacked more protein, sodium, fiber, Vitamin A, and calcium than their school variables.
The home meals were not all bad, but on the average lesser in quality than school meals. “There was a spectrum. There were some really healthy packed lunches. But overall, they were pretty unhealthy,” says Farris. And this was because, on the average, school lunches contained about 512 calories while home packed meals contained 608 calories; school meals had 26 grams of protein compared to the 18 grams found in home meals; school lunches had almost 1,000 mg of sodium but packed lunches contained only around 880 mg.
The director of university nutrition at the Washington University, St. Louis, Connie Diekman, states that “this study provides outcomes that are similar to other studies that show the positive benefits of school lunch. While it is surprising to see the higher sodium content in the school lunch, the nutritional pluses of the school lunch – more fiber, vitamin A and less sugar and saturated fat – make the [nutritional] value aspect of school lunch better.”
And just because the researchers found out that home packed meals contained less of fruits, vegetables, sugar-free juice, and milk, Farris advised parents to “include a fruit, a vegetable, protein, and diary” in children’s lunches. “Pack a sandwich. Put in an apple and carrot sticks,” to make it a completely nutritional food for growing school kids.