In April 2004 Hull City Council introduced free healthy school meals for all primary and special schools in an attempt to reduce health inequalities. This pilot study aimed to compare nutritional intake between those children consuming a free healthy school meal and those consuming a packed lunch brought from home. The study compared two schools from different socio-economic areas and considered the impact of lunch on total daily food and nutrient intakes in these children. Fieldwork was undertaken over five consecutive days in each school. Seven hundred and thirty-five lunches were weighed and photographed before and after consumption to assess actual food intake vs. wastage. One hundred and forty-seven children aged 8-to-11-years participated from two primary schools. Five-day food diaries were completed by a small number of participants (n=20) receiving school meals (n=10) and packed lunches (n=10) from the two schools selected. While the lunches provided at the two schools met the majority of the nutritional guidelines for school meals, children ate only a small amount, often leaving the potatoes and vegetables behind; therefore, their intakes were below recommended levels. Children from both schools who opted for packed lunch consumed significantly more energy, fat, sugar and sodium but with this more micronutrients than children who had a free healthy school meal. Statistical differences (P<0.01) were found between the two schools, with children from the less affluent school consuming less food from the school meal and therefore obtaining a lower nutrient intake from lunch than children from the more affluent school. Findings from a small number of food diaries suggest that the differences in intakes between those having a school meal and those having a packed lunch were compensated for by other food consumed during the day, such that daily nutrient intakes were not significantly different. This study suggests that many children may not be consuming sufficient amounts of the food provided in schools. Therefore, it cannot be assumed that the provision of school meals that conform to the School Food Trust guidelines will be of nutritional benefit to all children concerned. Bearing this in mind, more needs to be done to provide menus that are both healthy and enjoyable for children, so that they will want to consume the foods provided. Parents also need more advice regarding how they can provide their children with a healthy packed lunch, possibly via the introduction of a government-led packed lunch policy, particularly in schools from areas of lower socio-economic status. Although there was only a small sample of food diaries in this study, the findings suggest that socio-economic demographics may exert more of an influence on the total daily nutrient intake of children than the type of lunch consumed.
- Children's nutritional intakes
- Nutrient intakes
- Nutritional analysis
- School meals