The Big Problem With Giving Kids a 'Healthy' Lunch

girls taking a school lunchYou may spend hours preparing the perfect take-from-home school lunch for your kids, but do they actually bother to eat it? Or if you simply hand them some cash on their way out the door, do you know what foods they ultimately purchase? Well, two new studies about school lunches are proving that the meals you prepare for your kids are all wrong, and that kids rarely ever choose the healthy option from the cafeteria.


Hear that, Mom and Dad?

When researchers at Virginia Tech surveyed the lunches of 1,300 preschoolers and kindergartners, they found that packed lunches were filled with some not-so-healthy varieties. These lunches had a higher intake of calories, fat, and saturated fat (along with vitamin C and iron, so there's a plus side), while school lunches had higher intakes of protein, calcium, vitamin A, and sodium.

More from The Stir: 11 Hot Homemade Lunches Your Kids Can Take to School (PHOTOS)

And it's all because of the easy choices parents make. Yes, it's simple to throw in a bag of chips, some sweets, and a sugar-filled drink. But those calories and fats add up. And they're actually banned by the National School Lunch Program.

If you thought the packed lunch option was healthier, it's time to reevaluate. Yes, you know exactly what your kid will consume during the day, but as the research shows, that's not always a good thing.

So should you completely ditch the packed lunches and just have them eat the school lunch? Not so fast. Turns out, if your child is on the school lunch option, chances are your child is not actually consuming the healthy alternative.

Because another recent study -- this one coming out of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health -- observed 274 students (in kindergarten through second grade) during lunch. On a day when the menu consisted of a chicken and vegetable dish, researchers looked at what additional side dish kids would choose: fruit, vegetable, whole grain, low-far milk, or a lean protein (which, on this day, was the entree). An astounding three-quarters of kids chose the entree, 58 percent chose a fruit, and 59 percent chose a vegetable.

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Sure, that seems like a majority. But did they eat them? That's one big fat "no." In fact, only 75 percent took even one bite of the entree, and less then a quarter (24 percent) took a bite of their vegetables.

Turns out the school doesn't have all the answers either! 

So when it comes time to planning your kid's lunch, think balance. But don't get too stressed out. Nobody's got the answer ... at least not yet. 

Which is better for kids -- a home-packed meal or something the school cooks up?


Image via USDA/Flickr

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