Babies and children * Young people * Healthy living

Packed lunches worse than school dinners

Zone default image Full of sweets and sugary drinks

Just 1% of packed lunches meet the nutritional standards set for school dinners, a new study has revealed.

Most children have lunch boxes containing crisps, sweets, and sugary drinks rather than fruit, vegetable and dairy products, the study found.

Almost 5.5 billion packed lunches are eaten by British school children each year. Government guidelines mean that schools must provide healthy meals for children. All sweets, savoury snacks and artificially sweetened drinks are banned from school dinners, but it's up to parents to decide what goes into their child's lunch box.

A team of researchers from Leeds University examined the foods in packed lunches from almost 1300 children between the ages of 8 and 9 from 89 primary schools - 76 in England, four in Scotland, six in Wales and three in Northern Ireland. Almost nine out of 10 ate a packed lunch every day.

More than one in four children had packed lunches containing sweets, savoury snacks, and sugary drinks and four out of 10 had sweets and snacks, but no sugary drink. Just less than one in 10 had none of these foods in their lunch box.

A mere 1.1% of the children’s packed lunches met the nutritional standards set for school meals.

The food most likely to be eaten when provided was sweets, and the food least likely to be eaten was fruit.

On average, girls tended to be given, and ate, more healthy foods than boys.

In the study, published in this week's British Medical Journal, the researchers said: "Few lunches contained all five healthy food groups, but most lunches contained restricted foods and drinks such as crisps and cakes.”

Although the new standards for school dinners were producing “drastic improvements” in primary schools, the same could not be said for packed lunches, the researchers added.

This article was published on Tue 12 January 2010

Image © ricci -

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