Wednesday, November 5, 2008

You can pack it, but is it better?

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A UK study published in October compared school lunches vs. packed lunches with some surprising and scary findings. Compared to school lunch, packed lunches had:
  • Similar amounts of starchy carbohydrates
  • Twice as much sugar
  • Less energy from fat
  • Approximately 50% more saturated fat (the bad kind)
  • Approximately 50% more sodium
  • Additionally, very few packed lunches contained vegetables
Luckily, they did have more calcium and iron than school lunch, as well as more fruit.

While it could be that lunches are particularly bad in the UK, it does make you think a little about makes a healthy lunch? The US school lunches are designed by law to provide 1/3 the RDA for Calories, protein and fat. This translates to:

To see how my last 2 lunches weighed in, I did some analysis:

Annie’s mac and cheese single serving
Applegate farms grass-fed organic hot dog
¼ cup grape tomatoes (celery came back uneaten)
4 oz. applesauce
Stoneyfield farms yogurt stick

½ cup 2% cottage cheese
½ whole wheat bagel with 2 Tbsp. cream cheese
2 whole grain fig newtons
6 baby carrots

Looks like I am doing ok, lower in fat and saturated fat and higher in protein just like I was hoping. The sodium was surprisingly high at an average of 897 mg. However, this is about 1/3 the recommendation of 2400 mg.

This was a very interesting experiment. If you want to try a similar experiment, I recommend the USDA Nutrient Tracker website. This site allows you to enter in gender, age and activity level and then choose foods at a meal, day or even week. The analysis will then give you total average amounts. I also used nutrition labels and the USDA nutrient database to calculate foods without labels.

Rees GA, Richards CJ, Gregory J. Food and nutrient intakes of primary school children: a comparison of school meals and packed lunches. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2008 Oct;21(5):420-7.

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