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The contribution of school meals and packed lunch to food consumption and nutrient intakes in UK primary school children from a low income population


M. Nelson, School Food Trust, Sanctuary Buildings, 6th Floor, Great Smith St,
SW1P 3BT London, UK.
Tel.: +44 (0) 207 273 4783
Fax: +44 (0) 207 925 5304


Background:  The Low Income Diet and Nutrition Survey described the food consumption and nutrient intake of UK children in low income households in 2003–2005.

Methods:  To describe food consumption and nutrient intake associated with school meals and packed lunches, based on a cross-sectional analysis of 680, 24-h dietary recalls from 311 school children aged 4–11 years.

Results:  In children from low income households, pupils who took a packed lunch consumed more white bread, fats and oils, crisps and confectionery and fewer potatoes (cooked with or without fat) at lunchtime compared to other pupils. Many of these differences persisted when diet was assessed over the day. For younger pupils (4–7 years), packed lunches provided the least amount of folate, the highest amount of sodium, and the highest average percentage of food energy from fat and saturated fatty acids (SFA) compared to free school meals (FSMs). Over the whole day, in both younger (4–7 years) and older (8–11 years) children, there were no notable differences in energy or nutrient intake between those eating a packed lunch or a school meal. Older children’s packed lunches contributed a significantly higher proportion of fat, SFA, calcium and sodium to the day’s nutrient intake compared to a FSM.

Conclusions:  In children from low income households, packed lunches are less likely to contribute towards a ‘healthier’ diet compared to a school meal. The difference was more apparent in younger children. Key differences were the high consumption of sodium, SFA and non-milk extrinsic sugars by pupils who had packed lunches.