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Wednesday 17 February 2010

Healthy Lunch Box

Picture caption:
Kathy Cornford, Environmental Health Officer with the Health Improvement Team, shows off a healthy school lunch box with school children William Booth and Megan Shufflebotham

Unsure how to put together the perfect tasty but nutritious lunch box for your child? Well help is at hand. . .

Turkey twizzlers may have been banished from school dinner plates but children on packed lunches are still eating too much junk.

British children eat 5.5 billion packed lunches each year but the latest research has revealed only one per cent of these meet the nutritional standards set for their classmates on school meals.

In Cheshire East, schools have been working hard to provide good, nutritious food to help provide a balanced, healthy diet for a growing child.

But although education watchdog Ofsted says schools must have a policy on packed lunches, there is no legal requirement that they comply with the nutritional standards applied to their canteens. And figures show that more than half of children in East Cheshire take a lunch box to school.

Sheila Woolstencroft, health promotions and improvements manager at Cheshire East Council, said there are a few simple steps parents can take to ensure their youngsters get a balanced and tasty diet from their lunch box –that’s packed with appealing flavours too.

But first, many mums and dads need to break some bad habits.

A recent Leeds University study, commissioned by the Food Standards Agency and the first of its kind, found 82 per cent of pupils’ lunch boxes contained foods high in saturated fat, salt and sugar – items such as crisps, biscuits and sweets.

Only one in five lunch boxes contained any vegetables or salad and only about half included an item of fruit. In the overwhelming majority of cases, even these fell well below the standards required of school dinners.

Sheila Woolstencroft said: “Youngsters do not have to give up the foods they most enjoy for the sake of their health – just eat some foods in smaller quantities or less frequently.

“Variety and a change towards eating more fruit and vegetables are what really matters. It is important to try to choose a variety of foods as part of a balanced diet and cut back on foods high in fat, sugar and salt.”

Parents can help get the balance right by remembering to:

● Include a good helping of fruit and vegetables – aim for a portion of each towards the five-a-day total;
● Have some starchy food – like bread, rice, potatoes or pasta;
● Choose some lean protein – try tuna or salmon tinned in water, boiled eggs, beans or lean meat like turkey or chicken;
● Have some low-fat dairy food – like low-fat yoghurt, fromage frais or reduced-fat cheese;
● Add a drink – water, pure unsweetened juice or low-fat milk;
● Check the labels of processed foods to help you make the healthiest choices about saturated fat, salt and sugar.

School meal standards were introduced in 2006, due to growing evidence linking adult ill health with obesity or poor diet in childhood.

They limit the amount of foods high in sugars, salt and fats which can be served and require school meals to provide a third of youngsters’ daily requirements of every nutrient for health. No similar standards apply to lunch boxes.

Councillor Paul Findlow, Cabinet member with responsibility for children and family services, said: “While we understand that some children prefer to take packed lunches to school, the research from Leeds University clearly indicates that they are not getting the same benefit from their midday meal as their classmates on school dinners.

“Where packed meals are of poor quality, this could have serious implications for levels of childhood obesity and its long-term consequences.”

Councillor Andrew Knowles, Cabinet member for health and wellbeing, said: “Ensuring children eat a balanced and nutritious packed lunch is vital for tackling the problem of obesity and poor health in later life.

“Parents can play an important role in steering their children towards healthier foods that can not only boost their health and wellbeing but also their performance in the classroom.”

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