If you’re the parent of a school child, packing a healthy lunch can be a daily struggle. It’s no wonder that many turn to pre-packaged items.
According to a recent Cancer Council NSW poll of parents, 70% of them purchased pre-packaged snacks from supermarkets because it saved them time, they were easy to pack in the lunch box or because their kids pestered them to buy them.
Our nutrition team reviewed some popular packaged lunch box snacks to assess their healthiness and how food companies are influencing families to buy unhealthy snacks packed with sugar, fat and salt.
We found that a school lunch box containing common foods such as a ham sandwich, BBQ Shapes, Fruit Roll Up, Yogo custard and a fruit drink contains twice the sugar, is twice the cost and has only half of the fibre compared to a healthy lunch box containing a cheese and tomato sandwich, yoghurt, fruit and vegies.
Food companies target time-poor parents
Food companies don’t make choosing healthy food easy for parents. Pre-packaged foods are plastered with nutrition-related marketing claims like “source of calcium” or “no artificial…”. They’ll often feature bright colours, cartoon characters and fonts designed to draw in both parents and kids.
Bright colours, cartoon animals and fun shapes are used to attract children, and text like “no need to chill” and “the perfect lunch box biscuits” are used to appeal to parents desire to make easy and quick lunch box choices for their kids, but these snacks can be packed with sugar, salt and kilojoules and often don’t provide children with the nutrients they need.
Most packaged snacks are unhealthy
Labelling claims appeal to time-poor parents who are looking for convenient and healthy pre-packaged snacks, but the foods aren’t always as healthy as they seem.
Of the 140 common packaged snacks assessed, almost 80% were classified as unhealthy. Yet, the majority of products had marketing claims on the front-of-pack, such as “no artificial colours or additives”, “no preservatives”, and “made with real ingredients”.
The findings are alarming because snacks are a big part of the diets of kids, particularly in their lunch boxes. 44% of energy that Australian children consume at school comes from discretionary foods, such as sweet and savoury biscuits and cereal bars. If a child consumes too many of these foods over time it can contribute to unhealthy weight gain.
The average school child will eat more than 2,500 lunches during their 13 years at school, so packing a healthy lunch box plays an important role in meeting their daily nutritional needs, establishing healthy eating habits for life, and ultimately reducing cancer risk later in life.
Helping parents pack healthy lunches
Pre-packaged snacks make life easy, but it is often hard to know which products to buy.
Our Healthy Lunch Box website seeks to address the barriers parents face when packing lunch boxes for their kids. The interactive site helps families pack healthy, delicious and simple recipes their kids will love.
A back-to school snack solutions guide provides healthy snack ideas and tips on what to look for on product labels to make shopping easier. There is also an interactive lunchbox builder for kids, recipes, tips for parents, how-to guides and more.