School lunch vs. packed lunch: Which is healthier?
New research claims lunches packed at home are not as healthy as the lunches served at school.
The study, published in the newest Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, found packed lunches have more fat, saturated fat and sugar. They are also more likely to include desserts and sugary drinks. When compared to school lunches, the packed meals have less protein, fiber, vitamin A and calcium.
Sodium, however, was found to be higher in lunches provided by the school.
Registered dietitian Dr. Felicia Stoler said while schools are required by the government to provide a standard of nutrition at lunch, parents work with whatever they have available in the home.
"As a Mom, I've been on class trips where I've seen the other lunches that kids have brought to school, and I've been appalled," Stoler said, suggesting schools "get the short end of the stick" when people point blame for childhood obesity.
The study compared more than 1,300 preschool and kindergarten meals over a span of five days. The research said approximately 40 percent of children bring a packed lunch to school.
Stoler said parents can easily educate themselves on how to provide a balanced and nutritious lunch for their children.
"There's plenty of free resources online," she said. "Even looking at what your school menu has available - you can get an idea of what types of meal patterns are out there."
A bag of chips or cookies is fine in a packed lunch, Stoler noted, as long as it's accompanied by a solid source of protein and a fruit or vegetable.