Kids' packed lunches often fall short of dietary guidelines

Only 27% of lunches brought from home include three of the five National School Lunch standards, according to new study.

NEW YORK—Packed lunches that children bring from home are often missing the vegetables, milk and other healthy items recommended by dietary guidelines, says a new study.

More than 40 percent of U.S. kids bring their own food to school, but there have been very few studies of what kids have in their lunchboxes, the authors note.

For the new study, they examined the lunchbox contents of 626 third and fourth graders who attended 12 public elementary schools in Eastern Massachusetts.

“Most of the foods we saw were pre-packaged salty snack foods and sugary desserts - we saw much less fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy,” lead author Kristie Hubbard told Reuters Health in an email.

She is a researcher and registered dietician at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston.

“The findings highlight the challenges associated with packing healthful items and the opportunities for nutrition experts to help parents and kids pack lunches and snacks that are healthy, convenient, cost-effective and taste good,” Hubbard said.

About 48 percent of the students in the study brought lunches from home, and 97 percent of those lunches included a snack, the researchers report in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The most common lunch items were sandwiches, which were found in 59 percent of lunches. About 34 percent of lunches contained fruit and 11 percent had vegetables.

Roughly 42 percent of lunches had snack items and 28 percent included dessert.

For beverages, 28 percent of lunches included water, 24 percent included sugar-sweetened drinks and three percent included milk. Another 11 percent of kids planned to buy milk at school.