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School Lunches More Nutritious Than Home-Packed Lunches: Study

´╗┐School Lunches More Nutritious Than Home-Packed Lunches: Study

School Lunches More Nutritious Than Home-Packed

Little ones' lunchboxes often contain fat, desserts, sugary drinks, researchers say

FRIDAY, Nov. 7, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Lunches packed at home are generally not as nutritious as school lunches, a new study shows.

Researchers compared more than 750 school meals with more than 560 packed meals given to pre-K and kindergarten students in three schools, analyzing them for nutritional value over five days.

"We found that packed lunches were of less nutritional quality than school lunches," said lead researcher Alisha Farris, a Ph.D. candidate at Virginia Tech University.

The packed lunches had more fat, and included more desserts and sugary drinks than the school lunches did, the researchers found.

As a whole, the packed lunches overall had more calories, fat, saturated fat, sugar, vitamin C and iron than school lunches. In addition, meals brought from home generally had less protein, sodium, fiber, vitamin A and calcium than school lunches, according to the study.

"There was a spectrum," Farris said. "There were some really healthy packed lunches. But overall, they were pretty unhealthy."

The study is published in the November-December issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

About 50 million children go to elementary and secondary public schools in the United States every day, according to background information in the study. About 60 percent eat the school lunch; the other 40 percent bring their lunch.

To analyze the nutritional content of the lunches, the researchers used the 2012-2013 National School Lunch Program Standards as a guide.

The school lunches had about 512 calories on average and the packed meals about 608, the researchers found. The protein content of the school meals was about 26 grams, compared to 18 in packed lunches.

The researchers also found that packed lunches were less likely than school lunches to have fruits, vegetables, sugar-free juice and milk.

Packed lunches had more snacks such as chips and crackers, she found.

Farris found that sodium was higher in school lunches than packed, probably due to the entree items found in school lunches. School lunches had about 1,000 milligrams (mg) of sodium; packed lunches about 880 mg.

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