Two separate studies comparing school lunches to those that students brought from home have found that for most students, bagged lunches lack nutrition and those provided in school tend to be healthier for students.
Both studies were published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics and compared the nutritional values of the lunches children brought from home with the school lunches. In a joint study from researchers at USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital, they examined the content of lunches brought to school by 337 students and compared that to the national guidelines for nutrition and found most were inadequate and offered very little in way of nutrition as opposed to the school lunches that were meeting the guidelines.
Tuft University in Boston looked at the nutritional value of school lunches as well, but also considered how breakfast affected school performance and found that students who had a nutritional breakfast at school were likely to have greater attendance and a better chance for success.
The problem with most bagged school lunches is twofold -- what is and what is not in them both present a health problem. Most bagged lunches offer very few vegetables, fruits, multi-grains, and unprocessed food. What they do tend to have, however, is high sugar sweets, juices, sodas, and sugar filled milk along with high sodium and high fat snacks and tend to be heavier on meat and starchy, white breads and crackers as well as processed foods with a lot of artificial chemicals, dyes, and preservatives. As a result, most bagged lunches fall short of the national standards and many nutritionists have argued that the standards dietitians set are already weak to begin with.
With around a third of American children now overweight and already starting to experience hypertension by they time they are in grade school, that nation's youth are facing a health care crisis and many schools still have a very long way to go to provide truly healthy and nutritional school lunches. Great progress has been made by many schools and activists have been working to provide better choices for school lunches to help students not only succeed in school but to establish healthy eating patterns that can last them for the rest of their lives. Some of the nation's largest school districts have teamed up to demand natural, drug free chicken for school lunches and others, like former first daughter Barbara Bush, are working to educate the public on the importance of nutrition and to address the state of malnutrition in the United States and around the globe.
If you want to pack your child's lunch instead of opting for school lunches, there are some easy ways to make them healthier. Eliminate sugary snacks and drinks and replace them with real, organic fruit and no-sugar-added fruit juice. Add a variety of vegetables such as carrot and celery sticks instead of salty, high fat snacks. The more whole food, plant based school lunches and healthy breakfasts are provided for America's children, the better chance they will have at success in school and establishing a lifetime of good health.