Schools need to improve standard of lunches, researchers say

Teenagers struggle to get adequate nutrition from lunchtime meals in Irish schools

All teenagers’ lunches need attention say DCU researchers. Photograph: Thinkstock

All teenagers’ lunches need attention say DCU researchers. Photograph: Thinkstock

 

Shop bought and school lunches contain more calories, fat and sugar than home made lunches but new research shows all types of lunches lack adequate fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Researchers at Dublin City University said schools could do a lot more to improve the standard of the food they serve.

They found that teenagers were more likely to consume processed meat products, chips and high calorie soft-drinks from lunches sourced at school and local shops.

Home-made lunches were more likely to contain wholemeal breads, cheeses, red meat and fruit. However, the analysis of 615 lunches found the average school day lunch, regardless of source, was low in fibre, vitamins and minerals while being high in salt.

Of the 305 teenagers aged 15-17 surveyed, 39 per cent purchased lunches at school or near school and boys were more likely than girls to purchase food from local outlets.

“There are two major concerns when teenagers are exposed to and eat high calorie, fat and sugary foods regularly at school. Firstly, we know these foods and drinks contribute to obesity, and secondly, it means that healthier options are not eaten as much,” said dietician Sarah Browne.

“This study showed that for the most part home lunches were preferable to bought lunches, however, all school day lunches need attention in terms of, vitamins and minerals so we need to raise awareness at home and school about the importance of improving the quality of the foods our teenagers eat.”

Principal investigator Mary Rose Sweeney said the Government, schools and parents should endure that children are being served good food.

“The very clear message emerging from this research is that schools could do much better in terms of improving the nutrient profile of food served at school with a consequent positive impact on students’ health,” said Dr Sweeney.

“The Department of Education, School Principals and Parents should bring pressure to bear on private companies who have set up kitchens in schools around the country to ensure that their profit margins are not prioritised over children’s health.”