Open children’s lunch box and you’re prone to discover that the lunches and snacks inside miss federal guidelines. Those are the findings of the study conducted by researchers at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University as well as in the Department of Public Health insurance and Community Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine. The findings are published online ahead of print within the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Led by senior author Jeanne Goldberg, Ph.D., R.D., a professor in the Friedman School, the research is probably the first to look at what children provide school for lunch and snack. They used digital photography to document the lunches and snacks in excess of 600 Massachusetts second and third graders in 12 schools in six public school districts. Goldberg and colleagues compared students’ lunch and snack items to federal National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and Child and Adult Food Care Program (CAFCP) standards, respectively. They discovered that only 27% from the lunches met at least three of the five NSLP standards, and just 4% of snacks met at least two of the four CAFCP standards, each of which emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low- or non-fat dairy.
The findings highlight the difficulties associated with packing healthful items to send to school. “When deciding things to pack, parents are juggling time, cost, convenience, and what is acceptable for their children. Unfortunately, these 4 elements are not forever in harmony with higher nutrition,” Goldberg said.
“Lunches were comprised more of packaged foods than anything else,” Goldberg said. “Almost one fourth from the lunches lacked what would be considered an entre, like a sandwich or leftovers, and were instead comprised of a number of packaged snacks and desserts.”
“The few existing studies on packed lunches are convinced that children who bring their lunch have a tendency to consume fewer vegetables and fruit, less fiber and much more total calories than those who participate in the National School Lunch Program,” Goldberg said. “Given that more than 40% of U.S. schoolchildren bring their lunches to school on the given day, it’s important to consider how health professionals and policymakers may help parents satisfy the challenges of cost, convenience, and child preference and add nutrition to the equation.”
The researchers also found considerable room for improvement in class snacks. Goldberg and colleagues found that a typical snack contained a number of sugar-sweetened beverages paired with a packaged treats or dessert. “Few research has evaluated snacks from home and our data suggest that classroom-based snacking presents another chance of kids to eat and drink high calorie and nutrient-poor foods and beverages,” said corresponding author Kristie Hubbard, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., a research associate at the Friedman School.