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.


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.


5 Best Family Nutrition Blogs of 2012

I spent the entire morning yesterday in Powell’s Bookstore in downtown Portland.  They claim an entire city block.  The place is gargantuan.  I hunkered down in the cookbook aisle to drool over some really fabulous books.

But mostly I can’t afford to fly to Portland to read books in a bookstore–even for the opportunity to browse books at the in store espresso bar–so I often turn to the internet.  There are plenty of really terrific blogs out there that provide lots of cooking and nutritional information which can accessed right from home.

They inspire me to raise the bar on family nutrition and give me plenty to think about.  I chose 5 of them for my end of the year favorites list.

They were chosen because they are readable, fun and informative.  From small to large written by informed individuals, food lovers and parents–these are the ones I come back to time and again.

See what you think.

Food For My Family     As a mother of four, home cook and photographer Shaina Olmanson knows something about feeding a family.  She features all kinds of nuggets: favorite recipes, of course, but also money-saving tips and time-saving secrets.  From indoor to outdoor, buying to growing–everything she shares is based on real food.  Check it out.

Fix Me A Snack     Cindy, a self-professed snack guru, has loads of fun creating healthy treats for her kids and passing along her ideas with plenty of snap and wit.  Her snack options include several categories: seasonal, personal favorites,10 minutes or less, and taste test (hands down my favorite). Plus she has 101 yogurt based snack ideas.  Beat that!

100 Days of Real Food     Lisa Leake details her family’s experience in cutting out processed foods.  And there’s plenty of support to help others do the same thing.  Besides lots of recipes and free meal plans, she’s not afraid to tackle controversial subjects and encourage meaningful dialogue.

Eating Rules     I wish Andrew Wilder was my next door neighbor.  I don’t know why…  I just like him.  His blog has great information on diet, nutrition and food.  It’s funny and smart.  There is lots of cool stuff here including Menu Mondays–his recommendations for healthier choices from lots of common chain restaurants.  What an inspiration!

Nutrition Over Easy     Monica Reinagel, presents intelligent, totally reasonable nutrition advice.  Plus she sings opera and has a great podcast, The Nutrition Diva.  As a licensed nutritionist, I trust what she has to say.

Care to share any of your favorites?