Recent research from the UK published by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health shows that just 1.1% of children's packed lunches meet nutritional standards for school meals.
The study showed that in lunchboxes of 8-9 year olds; 82% had snacks such crisps or confectionery; 61% had a sweetened drink; on the healthier side, 54% had fruit; 44% had a milk-based dessert; 19% had vegetables and 17% had cheese. It was discovered that girls were provided with more fruit, vegetables and milk based desserts than boys. Worryingly the study showed that a quarter of all food provided to the children was left uneaten.
So who is to say that the average Irish packed lunch is any different from those across the water. Many schools now have ‘healthy eating’ policies; but how closely do we look at the content of the food that we pop in the lunchbox for ‘little Johnny or Josie’ to eat; and how do we know that what we provide is actually eaten?
There are two main reasons why all food may not be eaten; is that either there is too much food in the lunchbox or that kids are not getting enough time to eat their lunch.
Using the Food Pyramid to plan lunches will reduce the risk of packing too much food in the lunchbox. Choose food from each of the bottom four shelves of the Pyarmid to provide variety; i.e. choose a protein food (meat, poulty, fish, egg, nuts); a starchy food (bread, cereal, pasta, rice); a dairy food (milk, cheese, yohgurt) and a fruit or vegetable. Don’t forget to pack a healthy drink such as milk and water, as children need plenty of fluid to aid their concentration through the day.
Many schools have realised that the amount of time, and the timing of lunch versus play, may have an impact on the amount of food that will be eaten. Allowing children to go to play first and eat later can lead to children eating more, as they are not worrying about getting out to play. It might be a good suggestion to make to a school via your parents association.
It should be remembered healthier eating and less hungry kids tend to be better behaved and concentrate more on their studies so it’s in everyone’s interest that children get a healthy lunch and are not hungry in school!
For more information or for more information on diet and nutrition, please contact:
The Community Nutrition and Dietetic Service, HSE HSE Midlands, Louth, Meath Tel: (044) 93 95518 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.