≡ Menu

Are your children getting enough nutrients at school?

The end of the holidays is at last upon us and many families will now be getting ready for the first day back at school. New uniforms and sports kits will be ironed and new books and stationery will be stowed into bags. Many will also be preparing packed lunches, for those who prefer not to eat school meals.

We all know that children need to eat a balanced diet to provide energy for learning, growth and exercise. Thanks to initiatives by the School Food Trust, Jamie Oliver et al, food served for school dinners are now regulated by national standards to ensure that appropriate levels of nutrients are served. Whether or not the child decides to eat everything that is put in front of him/her is another matter, but the very fact that the meal has been designed to include recommended levels means that the child is receiving some of the nutrients they need.

Back to packed lunches – there is no national standard for these and since they are prepared at home, it would be difficult to regulate. So it is up to parents or carers to ensure that their children receive adequate levels of nutrients. It’s very easy to throw some sandwiches, crisps, chocolate bars, yougurt and a fizzy drink into a lunch box and there’s no denying that most kids would probably be delighted with the contents and eat the lot. But what nutritional value is the child actually getting?

Studies conducted by one of our nutrition course tutors, Lisa Gatenby, for part of her PhD showed that in the average school packed lunch fibre, iron, zinc, vitamin A and folate levels fell below the recommended minimum standards for lunches, whilst the fat, saturated fat, sugar and sodium contents were high.

You can read more about Lisa’s study at

So how can parents make sure that they are providing a balanced packed lunch?

The School Food Trust advises that the following should be included in packed lunches every day:

  • At least one portion of fruit
  • At least one portion of vegetables
  • Meat, fish or other source of non-dairy protein e.g. lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, hummus, peanut butter, falafel etc.
  • Dairy food e.g. milk, cheese, yogurt, fromage frais, custard
  • Starchy food e.g. bread, pasta, rice, cous cous, noodles, potatoes, cereal
  • Water, fruit juice, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, yogurt or milk drinks or smoothies

Of course, nobody wants to suck all of the fun out of a kid’s day, so the occasional cake or chocolate bar won’t do any harm as long as the lunch also contains the above. As the saying goes, “everything in moderation.”

There are some great ideas for healthy packed lunches here:

Online Nutrition Course

For more information on nutrition in general, why not take our online nutrition course – ‘Nutrition, Healthier Foods and Special Diets – Foundation.’ It’s easy to follow and in modular format, so you can learn at your own pace and is suitable for caterers, carers and parents alike.

Use code VWANUT1 for a 10% discount when booking this online course before 30th September 2011.