Packing it in

A study, published in the journal BMJ Open, has found that while the amount of sugar in packed lunches is declining, many contain foods still too high in sugar, salt or fat.

Overall, packed lunches are worse nutritionally than those offered by schools, and vitamin levels are falling, researchers said.

Levels of fruit and vegetables have barely changed over the course of a decade, experts found.

The study included data from 2006 for 1,148 pupils at 76 schools in England. Of these schools, 18 also took part in a 2016 comparison survey, which included a total of 323 pupils.

Researchers analysed the contents of lunchboxes in both studies, including weighing food and looking at drinks.

Should we be surprised children are being sent to school with a packed lunch of a sugary drink, a packet of crisps and a chocolate bar?

What has changed over the past 10 years in school food is that the school lunch is on the radar in a way that it really wasn’t. We are more conscious and aware about school food. The debates around the nutrition standards have made more people interested.

I believe we have seen improvements in the availability of foods high in nutritional quality; children are given more options, they’re seeing fresh fruits and vegetables. We’ve seen less sodium, fewer calories, we’re watching the fats. And, of course, we’re offering whole grains where we weren’t really doing that at all before.

A lot of what is chosen for a lunch box depends on many factors: people’s interpretation of what’s nutritionally beneficial; preferences (sometimes whole grain foods just don’t work); lunch timing — when a kid only has five minutes to eat, the first thing they grab is the sweetest thing near them, and then you get down to the fresh fruits and vegetables. We also have to take into consideration how we structure meals.

We should also get more creative in our thinking.

A landmark report by UNICEF has shown Japan topping the charts for childhood health indicators, with low rates of infant mortality and few underweight children.

The country is well known for its healthy diet comprised of a good balance of fresh and seasonal greens and seafood.

What’s telling is that kids are educated on what they’re eating. And, sample menus consist of fresh, balanced foods.

School lunches in Japan are served in the classroom, enabling children to learn about what they are eating and why. Kids get to learn about macronutrients from an early age, so they can tell their proteins from their carbs.

As education ministry official Mayumi Ueda told Agency France Presse (AFP), “School lunch is positioned as part of education under the law. It’s not just about eating food, but children learn to serve, and clean up on their own.”

AFP also reported that sample meals are made to not just be nutritionally balanced but also flavourful; ingredients are also fresh as food is selected based on the season.

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