Charities said they are now working with more than 100 schools to try to encourage healthier habits, including teaching parents how to make a healthy packed lunch
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Schools have started teaching parents how to pack a lunch box after research found only one in 60 meals is healthy.
A University of Leeds study that followed 76 schools over a decade found that children ate sandwiches with jam, sausage rolls and chocolate and often missed fruit and vegetables.
The results, presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Maastricht, showed that only one in five lunch boxes contained vegetables, while only half contained fruit.
Charities said they are now working with more than 100 schools to try to encourage healthier habits, including teaching parents how to make a healthy packed lunch.
In England, mandatory rules on the nutritional quality of school meals were introduced in 2006, but no law applies to packed lunches.
Prof Jason Halford, President of the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO), said: “The quality of the meals eaten at school, whether brought from home or bought at school, has long been a concern, particularly in the UNITED KINGDOM.
“However, it is difficult to promote more fruit and vegetables at school when this is not the diet at home.
“Helping families pack healthier lunches should of course be supported, but we need to understand the barriers families face in doing so, especially with the rising prices of perishable foods.
“We also need to make sure we don’t stigmatize families through shame. Food insecurity and family obesity are actually related issues.”
The study found that most sandwiches were made with white bread. Contents include jam and marmite, both of which are very low in protein.
Ham was the most common sandwich filling, with researchers warning it has been linked to colon cancer.
More than 100 schools will be added to the scheme over the next five years, with schools being offered a ‘support menu’ – including the workshops for parents at ‘affordable nutritious’ fares.
Stephanie Slater, Founder and Chief Executive of the School Food Matters charity, said: “The Leeds study showed that packed lunches rarely meet school food standards and in our work in schools we regularly see lunch boxes filled with crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks .
“We are helping schools put together a packed lunch guideline and workshops for parents so they know what to pack in their child’s lunch box.
“With a clear policy, school staff will not have to become ‘packed lunch police’, creating tensions between schools and families.
“But the very best way to ensure kids are getting the variety and nutrition they need to thrive is to encourage them to eat a hot school lunch.”
The study, which tracked habits from 2006, found that the proportion of lunch boxes filled with salami sticks or sausage rolls has increased.
More than half had chips or other savory snacks, while one in three included a chocolate chip cookie. About four in 10 lunch boxes also contained sugary pumpkin or a packet of fruit drink.
Tam Fry, chair of the National Obesity Forum, said the lack of national standards for lunch boxes means any workout can be hit and miss.
He called on Boris Johnson to ban packed lunches in schools – and instead ensure all children get a hot school meal every day.
“As Prime Minister, he can put the lid on the box and ensure that all British children eat well once a day,” he said.
The study, also published in the medical journal BMJ Open, included data from 2006 for 1,148 students in 76 schools in England. 18 of the schools also participated in a comparison in 2016, including 323 students.
Overall, only 1.6% of lunch boxes met nutritional standards, up from 1.1% in 2006.
dr Kremlin Wickramasinghe, the World Health Organization’s European chief of noncommunicable diseases, said he feared the trends could get worse now.
“With Covid, many children did not have access to school lunches and this would likely lead to a deterioration in diet quality,” he said.
NHS figures for England show obesity among five-year-olds has risen by 45% in a year after repeated lockdowns. Figures for 2020/21 show that 14.4% of children in England were obese when they started school, up from 9.9% the year before.
Overall, 28% of children were overweight or obese by age five and 41% by age 11.
https://www.mirror.co.uk/lifestyle/health/parents-urged-give-kids-more-26894114 Parents urged kids to give more fruit and veg as only 1 in 60 school lunch boxes is healthy