Two studies showed that school lunches are more nutritious and more beneficial to students than lunches brought from home.
The first study compared the nutrition of bagged lunches and school lunches. Researchers from the USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital found that bagged lunches brought by students to school fail to meet nutritional guidelines set by a nationwide program.
The study looked at the bag lunches brought by 337 students at school. The researchers measured its nutrition and compared it to the guidelines set by the National School Lunch program, as well as the average cost per serving.
The analysis showed that bagged lunches contain more sodium and fewer servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and milk. Majority of these lunches were packed with desserts, snack chips and sweetened beverages. The average cost per bag lunch is $1.85.
"Most studies focus on the foods provided by the schools; but many children bring their lunches from home. Lunches from home should contain healthy foods and help children meet national dietary recommendations," Dr. Karen Cullen, professor of pediatrics at Baylor and senior author of the study, said in a university news release.
The researchers were not surprised of the results of their study as most parents consider their children's preferences when preparing their bag lunches. Cullen suggested to parents to involve their children in choosing their meals such as letting them pick the fruit they want in the bag.
The findings of this study were published in the Nov. 24 issue of JAMA Pediatrics.
In the second study, published in the same journal, researchers from Tufts University in Boston compared the school performance of students served with school breakfast to those who brought bagged lunches. There was no significant difference on the test scores of the students, but children who ate school breakfast had better attendance records.
"It's important for parents to understand that breakfast is important for getting their kids ready to learn in the classroom (and) for improving their academics," editorial co-author Lindsay Turner of Boise State University in Idaho said to Reuters Health. "It's not just about healthy eating, it's about getting the kids to do better in the classroom as well."