School lunches may be more nutritious than brown-bag lunches, study says

By Tom Nordlie • Published: March 25th, 2015
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

School cafeteria food might not rank among anyone’s favorite childhood memories. But a study published in The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior indicates that today’s school lunches may not be so bad after all. In fact, they may be more nutritious than the homemade alternative.

Oddly enough, there haven’t been many attempts to compare the nutritional value of school-prepared food and brown-bag lunches. So a group of scientists at Virginia Tech decided to look into the issue after new national standards were unveiled in 2012, regarding the meals served at schools participating in the National School Lunch Program.

The new standards affect about 100,000 public and nonprofit private schools nationwide.

In the study, researchers obtained permission to analyze school lunches and home-packed meals consumed by preschoolers and kindergarteners during one week at three public schools in rural Virginia.

Altogether, the researchers assessed about thirteen-hundred lunches. About 40 percent of them were made at home.

All of the lunches were analyzed for macro- and micronutrients, although the researchers didn’t check to see what the kids actually ate.

The homemade lunches generally included more calories, fat, carbohydrates, sugar and Vitamin C than school lunches. They also contained less protein, sodium and calcium.

In addition, homemade lunches were less likely to include fruit, vegetables or milk, and were more likely to include desserts and beverages with added sugar.

So, the bottom line for parents is, if you pack your child’s lunches, don’t go overboard with tasty treats.

And, if your child eats school lunches, rest assured that the cafeteria is providing healthy food — regardless of the complaints you may hear.