Lunch boxes packing an unhealthy punch

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Ever since Jamie's School Dinners highlighted the horrors that lurk within the nation's school kitchens, the packed lunch has seemed like a healthier option. But according to new research, that couldn't be further from the truth.

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Where school dinners now have to meet nutritional standards, a study by the University of Leeds reveals that only one per cent of packed lunches match up. Instead, parents are packing crisps, sweets and sugary drinks into their children's lunchboxes. Bearing in mind that around four million British schoolchildren eat a packed lunch made by mum or dad, it goes a little way to explaining the rise in childhood obesity rates.

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, analysed 1,300 packed lunches for kids aged between eight and nine. Most common amongst the Hannah Montana and Ben 10 boxes were sandwiches, sweets, savoury snacks and artificially sweetened drinks. Just one in ten children were given sandwiches with vegetables in them and only one in ten were given a portion of vegetables as a snack.

The researchers then recorded what was left at the end of the day. Oddly enough, the crisps and sweets were quick to go, while the fruit remained uneaten. In fact, all in all, less than half of the lunch boxes contained sufficient levels of vitamin A, folate, iron and zinc.

Chief Executive of the School Food Trust Judy Hargadon told The Telegraph: "Once again, this research highlights why buying a well-balanced school lunch is now the most nutritious choice for children and young people."

Since crisps, sweets and cans of pop aren't cheap these days, wouldn't parents be better off spending their money on a meal that they know is healthy? And now that we finally have school dinners that offer a healthy, balanced diet, is it time that the packed lunch was packed up for good and the trusty school dinner became compulsory?