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Children’s packed lunches – are they even worse than turkey twizzlers?

Press release issued: 10 January 2007

Packed lunches taken to school by 7-year olds are even less healthy than school meals used to be before Jamie Oliver set out to reform them.

Packed lunches taken to school by 7-year olds are even less healthy than school meals used to be before Jamie Oliver set out to reform them.

The Children of the 90s study, based at the University of Bristol, revealed today that in the year 2000, school meals were every bit as bad a Jamie Oliver suggested - but that children given packed lunches instead were even worse off nutritionally.

Dr Pauline Emmett, Nutritionist and Dietician, who is in charge of the nutritional part of Children of the 90s said: ‘We compared nutrients in foods brought by hundreds of children in their packed lunches to recommendations and found that they fell short in important nutrients like potassium and zinc and were much too high in sugar and saturated fat. The foods eaten in the rest of the day did not compensate for this.

 “Children who ate school dinners had higher intakes of protein and most vitamins and minerals, and lower intakes of sugar and saturated fat.

“The Food Standards Agency recommends that packed lunches should ideally contain a starchy food, a protein food, a dairy item, a vegetable/salad and a fruit. Only 3.5 per cent of packed lunches did contain them all and almost half (44.3 per cent) included two or less. Packets of crisps and chocolate biscuits were the most commonly eaten foods after white bread with some type of fat spread. 

 “Fruit and vegetable /salad intakes were very low in packed lunches – only 41 per cent had a fruit and 16 per cent a salad vegetable. These food groups were also low in the cooked school dinners - something which Jamie Oliver’s reforms have tried to address, not always with support from children and parents! On average children were eating half the amount of fruit and vegetables that they need.” 

Dr Emmett suggests that “We need to be working towards a change of attitude to the foods we eat ourselves and particularly to the foods we are willing to give our children to eat.”


Further information

The quality of food eaten in English primary schools: School dinners versus packed lunches Imogen S Rogers, Andrew R Ness, Kevin Hebditch, Louise R Jones, and Pauline M Emmett European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Online publication date January 10 2007.

ALSPAC The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (also known as Children of the 90s) is a unique ongoing research project based in the University of Bristol. It enrolled 14,000 mothers during pregnancy in 1991-2 and has followed most of the children and parents in minute detail ever since.

The ALSPAC study could not have been undertaken without the continuing financial support of the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, and the University of Bristol among many others.

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