It’s not what you’d expect, but a new study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found there’s hope for school lunch yet.

Researchers from Virginia Tech University compared more than 750 school lunches with more than 560 packed lunches prepared for pre-K and kindergarten students from three different schools. Each meal was analyzed for nutrition over a period of five days. "We found that packed lunches were of less nutritional quality than school lunches," said lead researcher Dr. Alisha Farris, a Ph.D. candidate at Virginia Tech, according to CBS News.

There was a portion of packed lunches that were super healthy, but a majority of them had more calories (an average of 608 compared to a school’s 512), fat, and sugar, while packing less protein (18 grams compared to a school’s 26 grams), sodium, fiber, vitamin A, and calcium. The researchers also found that packed lunches were less likely than school lunches to have fruits, vegetables, sugar-free juice, or milk, ultimately leaving room for desserts, sugary drinks, chips, and crackers.

However, school lunches contained higher levels of sodium, and nine in 10 U.S. children are already eating too much salt. "While it is surprising to see the higher sodium content in the school lunch, the nutritional pluses of the school lunch — more fiberm, vitamin A, and less sugar and saturated fat — make the [nutritional] value aspect of school lunch better,” Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, said.

It’s worth nothing researchers only observed the meal itself, not consumption. So while a packed lunch tended to have more calories and fat, it’s not to say children actually consumed as much. But, the debate of which is healthier — school or packed lunches — is valid. A vast improvement has been made, and this study may be evidence it’s only going to get better.

Approximately 40 percent of students' parents pack their lunches, and Farris recommended parents start to make an extra effort to include a fruit, a vegetable, protein, and dairy, such as yogurt, milk, or cheese. Redbook took it a step further and tapped Amy Hemmert, the co-founder of Laptop Lunches, for her healthiest recipes. Fruit salad, english muffin pizza, and vegetable roll-ups are all on the menu.

Source: Farris A, Misyak S, Duffey K, Davis G, Hosig K. Nutritional Comparison of Packed and School Lunches in Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten Children Following the Implementation of the 2012–2013 National School Lunch Program Standards. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2014.