Lunches From Home Less Healthy Than School Cafeteria Food

I’m having a really hard time digesting the latest news from the Children’s Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine.  Even the researchers themselves can’t believe it.

After studying lunches brought from home by 2nd graders in a Texas school district, they concluded that these lunches were less healthy (really?!) than those served up in the school cafeterias.

School cafeterias have, for years, taken their share of abuse for serving unhealthy, over processed foods and mystery meats with few fresh fruits and vegetables.  Images of styrofoam trays laden with an unappetizing array of monotone colored foods come to mind.

The reality, however, looks something like this:

Lunches from home were less likely to contain:

  • fruit  (45.3% vs. 75.9%)
  • vegetables  (13.2% vs. 29.1%)
  • dairy  (41.8% vs.70%)

Lunches from home were more likely to contain:

  • snacks high in sugar and fat  (60% vs. 17.5%)
  • non-100% fruit juice  (47.2% vs. less than 1%)

This is so surprising because in past studies, parents indicated that they could pack healthier lunches than the school would provide.  So what gives?

Researchers suggest that parents worry more about the fact that their kids are eating–not what they’re eating.  It’s true, giving our kids what they want is tempting.  And there are so many convenient prepared foods out there that will do just that and make the lunch assembly process about as easy as pie oatmeal.  But we also want our kids to be healthy. And that starts at home.  It’s our responsibility to teach them healthy habits now that will last a lifetime.

So what to feed them–that’s easy to put together during a morning of lost socks, misplaced homework and sibling squabbles.  Remember Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate?  The one that shows exactly how much of our plates should be covered by the various food groups?  Just apply that concept to your child’s lunch as well.

healthy-eating-plate-700

Half of a home packed lunch belongs to fruits and vegetables.  A quarter of lunch should be lean protein.  And another quarter is for whole grains.

Does thinking about what to pack make you feel like your brain has been co-opted by an alien being?  Check out 85 Snack Ideas for Kids (and Adults!) from 100 Days of Real Food.  Most of these ideas are simple and easy to prepare–perfect for a lunch box.

Tip:  Let your kids weigh in on deciding what’s packed in their lunch boxes.  Give them a few healthy choices and you’ll have greater buy in.

Does your child bring a lunch from home or eat school lunch?  How does your child’s school cafeteria measure up?

Fresh fruit, tomatoes and cucumber, pizza with whole wheat crust.

Fresh fruit, tomatoes and cucumber, pizza with whole wheat crust.

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