Just 1% of packed lunches for primary schoolchildren come up to the nutritional standards set for school meals in England, a new report has found.
A team of researchers from Leeds University examined 1,300 schoolchildren's lunchboxes and found that healthy foods like fruit and vegetables lost out to crisps and sugary snacks.
The study, the results of which were published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, involved children aged eight and nine who took a packed lunch to school on at least one day of the week.
Over a quarter of the children had packed lunches containing food and drink banned under rules on healthy prepared meals for local authority schools in England, which came into force in 2006.
Only one in five packed lunches contained any vegetables or salad, according to the Journal. Although half of children had fruit in their packed lunch, it was the least likely thing to be eaten.
The chair of the School Food Trust, Prue Leith, told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I'm not really surprised at all, because it absolutely chimes with the research we have done.
"I have never met a mum who could resist putting in a little bit of chocolate or a cake or a packet of crisps."
Leith recommended a ban on unhealthy treats in lunchboxes.
"I think parents would prefer their children not to eat unhealthy food. If the school makes a rule that packed lunches have to be healthy, the parents can say ‘You can't have a chocolate bar in your packed lunch, the school won't allow it' - it makes it easier for the parent," she said.
Lead researcher Charlotte Evans, of Leeds University, said: "It reflects the typical diet of the whole population. Most adults would also have crisps or a chocolate bar and not enough fruit or veg in their lunchbox.
"There are many initiatives going on to improve our diet and exercise, but change won't happen overnight."
Around half of children in the UK eat a packed lunch - the equivalent of 5.5 billion lunches every day.
By Neil Gerrard
E-mail your comments to Neil Gerrard here.
If you have something to say on this story or anything else join the debate at Table Talk - Caterer's new networking forum. Go to www.caterersearch.com/tabletalk
Looking for a new job? Find your next job here with Caterersearch.com jobs