Background Standards for school meals were recently introduced in the UK; however, no such standards exist for packed lunches. This study measures the provision and consumption of a range of food types and nutrients in British children's packed lunches and compares the results with the prevailing school meal standards in England.
Methods Cross-sectional survey data was collected from 1294 children, age 8–9 years, attending 89 British primary schools. Eighty-seven primary schools declined to take part. The outcomes were the weight of food types and nutrients, provided and consumed in packed lunches and the proportion meeting the government food and nutrient school meal standards for England.
Results Fourteen out of 1294 (1.1%) of packed lunches met all the food-based standards for school meals in England. Eighty-five per cent of children were provided with a sandwich, 19% with vegetables, 54% with fruit, 17% with cheese, 44% with a milk-based dessert, 82% with restricted snacks (crisps or confectionery) and 61% with a sweetened drink. The nutrient standards most likely to be met were protein and vitamin C. The nutrient standards least likely to be met were non-milk extrinsic sugars (NMES) and sodium. Girls were provided with, and consumed, more fruit, vegetables and milk-based desserts. Children at schools with lower percentage free school meals eligibility (% FSME) were provided with, and consumed, more vegetables.
Conclusion Few packed lunches meet the school meal standards. Future research should address policy, interventions, and programmes to educate parents about the nutritional content of packed lunches.
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Funding Food Standards Agency.
Competing interests None declared.
Ethics approval University of Leeds.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.