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Debit purchased school lunches: Do they make for unhealthy meals?

Debit payment systems for lunches may lead to unhealthy food options.
Debit payment systems for lunches may lead to unhealthy food options.
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

With 15 minutes on the clock and ticking, having to get children out of the bed, out of the house and to school on time finding time to pack a nutritious lunch they will actually like is laughable. Packing a lunch in the morning could be the difference between your child making it to first period and getting yet another tardy slip! School lunches can be a saving grace.

However, based on a recent study in the January issue of Obesity (2014;22{1}24-26), how students pay for their lunches can determine the healthfulness of their meals. The research suggests students receiving lunches in school districts that utilize debit/cash payment systems as opposed to debit only systems have the tendency to purchase more healthy food options (42% vs 31%).

The study included 2,300 students at 287 different schools and across 1,036 students the research showed that students utilizing the cash/debit system purchased more fresh fruits and vegetables. The biggest difference was seen in the amount of fresh vegetables purchased (31% vs. 11%).

The study also showed a small difference in the amount of calories consumed (752 vs. 721).
Based on this research there might be something to say for taking the extra time to pack your child’s lunch. Despite whatever payment system a child’s school utilizes, packing a lunch can help parents monitor what kids eat, to a certain extent of course. There’s nothing you can do about that bag of chips bought by spare change from a coat pocket!

Here are some 10 tips to help pack a healthy, nutritious and easy lunch for the student in your life:

• Use the "My Plate" guidelines to create a well balances lunch.
• Save time in the morning and pack lunches the night before.
• Get children involved. It’s fun to eat something you helped make.
• Switch from high fat lunch meats to healthier low fat versions.
• Make sure to include both fresh fruits and vegetables.
• Limit cookies, brownies and other sweets and opt for fruit.
• Use whole grain breads instead of white bread for sandwiches.
• Leave the cheese off of sandwiches or use low fat cheese.
• Make sure juice is 100% juice and in a single serving.
• Don’t use Lunchables. They are high in fat and sugar.

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