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Processed Foods in Children’s Diets

Better nutrition needs more “home” work.

Healthy lunch meal to replace processed foods in children's diets

In a Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics report—“Processed and packed: How refined are the foods that children bring to school for snack and lunch?”—researchers reported that 70% of the foods that third- and fourth-grade students were bringing from home were highly processed.

The investigators assigned school-bound food to one of three processing levels: less processed or unprocessed, moderately processed, or highly processed (which can also be considered ultraprocessed). Data was from 10 public elementary schools in eastern Massachusetts. Snack foods and desserts contributed the greatest percentage of total energy to the highly processed category.

Alarmingly, a school-based intervention that involved nutrition education, monthly parent newsletters and food demonstrations had no significant impact on the quality of food that kids brought to school. Since many children consume a large chunk of their daily calories at school, it’s imperative for their health and development that we do a better job to make sure what they are eating in this setting is more nutritious.

See also: Ultraprocessed Foods Hurt Nutrition in Kids

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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