Despite a number of high profile awareness campaigns, only a tiny proportion of children’s packed lunches meet nutritional standards, according to a new study.

As children across the country return to school this week, many parents will be shopping for packed lunch fillers from stores across the country. But research from the University of Leeds has found that just 1.6% of primary children’s packed lunches met the nutritional standards set for their classmates eating in the school canteen.

The report found that only 17% of lunches contained any vegetables or salad, while more than half contained sweet snacks. The University’s School of Food and Nutrition identified that lunch standards improved just 0.5% in the last 10 years.

Only 17% met the standard for vitamin A, while only 26% and 16% made the requirement of iron and zinc respectively.

The research was commissioned by Flora as a follow up to a 2006 study which found that only 1.1% of children’s lunches met nutritional standards. Comparatively, there was a considerable drop in sweetened soft drink consumption, dropping 15% in the last 10 years.

Dr Charlotte Evans, a nutritional epidemiologist in the University’s School of Food and Nutrition, said: “I hope the results of the study are an eye-opener, highlighting that more stringent policies need to be introduced if we want to see real change in the nutritional value of children’s packed lunches. 

“New policies for schools, food manufacturers and retailers are needed, which will require strong support from government and stakeholders if progress is to be made.”

Sharon Hodgson MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for School Food, said: “The research highlights the need for more action to be taken on food put in children’s packed lunches, something which the School Food APPG has recently called for. 

“Despite positive moves with regards to the food provided as part of a school meal, food brought in by children in their packed lunches is lagging behind. Therefore, we need more action to be taken if we want to see positive changes occur.”