School workshops being organised to inform parents how to make packed lunches 'less unhealthy'
Lessons are being organised at schools to inform parents on how to make their children's packed lunched "less unhealthy". A study by University of Leeds revealed that lunches made at home "rarely meet school food standards" and were typically found to mostly contain unhealthy snacks.
The research also showed that about a half of lunchboxes included fruit while only a fifth included vegetables, resulting in just 1.6 per cent in the study being deemed nutritious enough. Sandwiches were found to generally be made with white bread and filled ham, though many others were also filled with jam or Marmite, The Times reports.
In 2015, mandatory rules were introduced for hot school dinners, but there hasn't been any similar rules regarding packed lunches.
In the study, the packed lunches were measured against the standards that apply to cooked school lunches, which must include vegetables, protein and dairy, and limit sweet snacks and drinks to be deemed to nutritious enough.
More than 100 schools are expected to be enrolled onto a School Food Matters scheme over the next five years, which is said to offer a "menu of support" to boost children's diets, including workshops for parents on making good packed lunches.
Founder and chief executive of the School Food Matters, Stephanie Slater, said: "The Leeds study has shown that packed lunches rarely meet the school food standards and in our work in schools we regularly see lunchboxes filled with crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks. We’re supporting schools to put together a packed lunch policy and workshops for parents so they know what to include in their child’s lunchbox."
She added that having a clear policy in place meant school staff are not forced to effectively become 'packed lunch police' which she said "creates tensions" between schools and families. "But the very best way to ensure that children get the variety and the nutrition they need to thrive is to encourage them to eat a hot school meal," said Ms Slater.
Professor Jason Halford of the University of Leeds, president of the European Association for the Study of Obesity, said: "Promoting more fruit and veg intake at school is difficult if this is not the diet at home. Helping families to pack more healthy lunches is obviously something that should be supported but we need to understand the barriers families face doing this."
The study was highlighted in a World Health Organisation report on obesity and published in the journal BMJ Open, which has monitored packed lunches since 2006.