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133 423

Lifting the lid on kid's lunch boxes

It’s essential for energy at school, so how well are WA kids really fuelling themselves?

If our children’s school lunch boxes could talk, they’d tell a worrying tale of few vegetables, leftover sandwiches, and crumbs where the sugary snacks and treats had once been.

Now, in HBF’s Lunch and Play Report, new insights have come to light, revealing exactly what is being eaten (and left uneaten) at lunch time for Western Australian kids.

According to the survey, 70% of daily lunches are prepared by mums, 18% by the children themselves and 9% by dads.

The majority of WA kids (87%) are gobbling up what’s in their lunch box, leaving no leftovers. Just over one in 10 (12%) eat about half of the food packed in their lunch boxes while only one in 100 eat less than half.

96% of WA parents say their child takes a lunch that is packed in the home to school with them, and of these, 74% say their child does so every day (five days a week). HBF dietitian Mary Du Heaume believes this is a positive sign.

“A lunch box prepared at home puts whoever’s packing it in the driver’s seat. They can steer the nutritional make-up of the lunch box,” Du Heaume says.

Lifting the lid on kid's lunch boxes

What’s in

Fresh fruit is popular, packed in 88% of lunch boxes at least once per week, while 92% of lunches include water once a week.

Almost nine in 10 (89%) lunch boxes contain a good source of carbs with a sandwich, wrap or pita included at least once per week. However, the most common foods left uneaten in WA school lunch boxes are sandwiches, wraps or pitas (46%), followed by fresh fruit (27%).

“Carbohydrates give children energy. If they have a good carb source, such as cereal, at breakfast, and a good carb source, such as a sandwich, at lunch, that’s going to fuel their brains to concentrate at school and give them the energy to play,” Du Heaume explains.

“Next, add in protein, such as eggs, lean meat or chicken and some vegetarian protein as well, such as tofu, baked beans, kidney beans or chickpeas. Protein provides nutrients essential for growth and muscle development, plus it boosts the sustainability of the meal and keeps the child fuller for longer.

“For a balanced lunch box, add dairy, which is essential for bone strength, plus servings of fruit and vegetables. The majority of food our children are eating should be coming from these core food groups.”  

What's out

One of the most concerning statistics in the HBF Lunch and Play Report is that 66% of lunch boxes don’t contain any vegetables per week. For 12% of kids, their lunch boxes are devoid of fresh fruit each week.

Du Heaume says the key to upping our kids’ fruit and veg intake is to ignite their interest and love for good food by delighting them with new ways to enjoy it.

“Children want to eat foods they’re familiar with, but it’s also important to find different ways of presenting those foods to keep it interesting.

“You can pack a lot of vegetables into things like frittatas or savoury muffins, and children enjoy having lots of bowls of different things to pick at so their lunch is varied,” she recommends.

“Think of little snap-lock bags with chopped vegetables, veggie sticks with hummus, even ‘rainbow rice’ in place of a sandwich, like cold rice with colourful diced veggies.

“We eat with our eyes too, so making food look appealing certainly helps.”

Here’s what mums say

For mother-of-three Amanda Cox, who shares her passion for health via her blog Diary of a Mad Cow, it’s a case of serving up a smorgasbord of different things.

“I include a variety of fruit and veg in my kids’ lunch boxes. They only have what I want them to eat, and not the things I prefer they don’t eat,” she says.

“I usually go with what I call ‘handful foods’ – things I can grab a handful of and toss in the box, such as berries, cherry tomatoes, beans, carrot sticks or cucumber circles. The less chopping required, the better.”

Allie Gaunt is co-creator of One Handed Cooks, a website that inspires parents to cook healthy meals, such as sushi sandwiches and banana avocado bread, for their kids using simple ingredients.

Gaunt says the secret to packing a nutritionally-balanced lunch box – that’s also appealing – is to include a variety of nutrient-rich foods.

“A healthy lunch box is one that appeals to children by giving them choice and has simple packaging. And including a surprise or small ‘sometimes food’ doesn’t hurt either,” she suggests.

“Use fresh, in-season foods that transport well and offer quality nutrients, throw in a creative sandwich or alternative such as scrolls or crackers with spreads, add an additive- and preservative-free snack (such as home-baked goodies, cheese or fruit salad) and they’ll be thrilled to open their lunch box and eat what’s inside.”

And if it’s bursting with a rainbow of riotous colour – and flavour – chances are they’ll eat it, every time.

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