Nick Freeman, marketing manager at Innovate Services, tells Janie Stamford about a recent research study into packed lunches.
Why did you carry out the Lunch Box Amnesty study group?
We work hard to offer quality food and drink that meet the food standards, but there are no rules for lunch boxes. So we decided to assess not only the typical nutritional content of packed lunches but the food safety aspects as well.
Did the findings surprise you?
They were certainly interesting. Just 7% of the packed lunches assessed complied with the standards, while over seven out of 10 contained a food or drink that is not permitted.
Unsurprisingly, the most popular non-permitted snacks were crisps. On the plus side, over half contained at least one piece of fruit and so the recorded levels of Vitamin C were well above the nutritional standard.
Were there any particularly unusual example lunches?
Most contained a sandwich, roll or wrap which wasn't a surprise, but only 3% of these contained any salad. The more unusual items we came across included cold chicken nuggets, hotdog sausages and even a fried-egg sandwich.
Nearly a quarter contained foods that are marketed as healthy snacks but any food item with a sugar content greater than 12.5g per 100g is considered to be high in sugar. We found examples that contained 54.8g of sugar per 100g. It pays to read the nutritional content labels more closely.
How can caterers demonstrate the value of a school meal over a packed lunch?
Not only can caterers provide students with a meal that meets the nutritional standards but it will be prepared under strict hygiene conditions. From our sample, it is clear that producing a lunch box that meets both of these criteria and also offers variety at an affordable price is a difficult balance for parents to achieve each day.
Do you think parents are becoming better informed about nutrition? Have you seen school meal take-up increase?
Awareness of nutrition continues to grow among parents, but I'm not sure the same can be said regarding food safety. I think it can be difficult for parents, as so much has been written about school food and packed lunches in recent months. Hopefully research like this will help encourage parents to think carefully about what goes into their child's packed lunch, or switch to school meals.