- Children’s Food Trust looked at top foods eaten by under-16s last year
- Found treats like biscuits, chocolate and sugary drinks are still staples
- Means many are consuming well above their RDAs for sugar, salt and fat
- Charity recommends making simple changes such as switching chocolate bars to unsalted popcorn
Packed lunches containing biscuits, crisps and sugary drinks are fuelling the childhood obesity crisis.
The largest study of its kind has found a typical packed lunch serves up more than a six-year-old’s entire daily sugar limit.
The Children’s Food Trust looked at the top types of foods eaten by under-16’s in hundreds of millions of packed lunches in the last year.
It found products like sugary treats are among the top foods many children ask to have because they enjoy the taste.
The news comes after a number of councils banned children from bringing packed lunches, forcing them to eat a more balanced school dinner.
Today, leading obesity experts admitted many parents still do not know how to create a healthy lunch box.
This example of a typical lunchbox, including a cheese sandwich on white bread, crisps, cake and drink contains almost three times the recommended amount of sugar for a seven to 10-year-old
Another example, based on information provided by The Children’s Food Trust survey, shows how a sandwich, crisps, drink and an apple can contain a staggering 33g of fat
Tam Fry from the National Obesity Forum, told MailOnline nothing would change unless parents were given more help.
‘It doesn’t surprise me at all that children are still getting packed lunches with almost no nutritional value,’ he said.
‘Children naturally pester their parents for sugary food. But there are so many things that could be put into lunchboxes if parents knew what to do.
‘The problem is, the majority of people don’t know. It is a shame when schools are trying their best to encourage healthy eating with balance school meals.’
While fruit and vegetables were among the top 20 packed lunch items, treats like chocolate bars now banned from being sold in school canteens and vending machines also featured heavily.
The survey found popular lunchbox brands which contained high levels of sugar include:
- Capri Sun orange juice drink (200ml) which contained more than a six year-old’s recommended maximum daily free sugars intake – in 12.7m packed lunches
- Kit Kat two-finger milk bar (21g) with 48 per cent a seven-year-old’s recommended sugar – eaten in 9.4m lunchboxes
- Mr Kipling lemon slice (33g) works out at half a 12-year-old’s sugar for the day
Most of the sugar content found in packed lunches comes from free sugars.
These are sugars added to food such as sucrose and glucose or those naturally present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices.
It does not include sugar naturally present in milk or whole fruit and vegetables.
Linda Cregan, chief executive of The Children’s Food Trust, said sugar-laden lunches were fuelling the nations’s childhood obesity epidemic.
One in five children starting school are now either overweight or obese.
The Children’s Food Trust looked at the top types of foods eaten by under-16’s in hundreds of millions of packed lunches in the last year
But she admitted it was ‘so tough for parents’ to get the right balance.
‘Families often choose packed lunches as simple reassurance that their children will eat something during the school day or on a day out – fussy eating is a huge worry for so many mums and dads,’ she said.
A HEALTHY ALTERNATIVE
Ham sandwich – made with two slices supermarket own brand medium sliced wholemeal bread and thinly-spread margarine and one average slice of ham.
Houmous and carrot sticks (30g)
Fromage frais (90g)
This lunch meets the dietary recommendations for a seven to 10 year old based on the recommendation that lunch should provide about 30 per cent of daily intake.
‘But when it’s foods like crisps, chocolate biscuits and sugary carton fruit drinks that kids are asking for in their lunchboxes, or eating because they say they like those foods, we’ve got a problem.
‘They’re filling up on empty calories which won’t leave kids feeling at their best.’
The researchers analysed 365 million packed lunches eaten by schoolchildren last year.
Bread and margarine were the most common items with fruit in third place.
Biscuits ranked ninth on the list, crisps 12th, sugary drinks 13th and cakes 17th.
Sugary drinks also featured prominently – with almost one in five lunches (18 per cent) including ‘one-shot’ fruit drinks.
A standard portion of the most-consumed brands gives a six-year-old more than their entire daily recommended intake of free sugars in one go.
Making simple switches such as swapping these for milk or water would be one simple way of cutting down sugar intake.
THE HIDDEN SUGARS IN CHILDREN’S LUNCHBOXES
Lunches should provide a child about 30 per cent of their daily intake of sugar, salt and fat.
But many parents are unwittingly far exceeding this as typical lunches below demonstrate.
Capri-Suns are a popular part of children’s lunchboxes but can contain up to three teaspoons of sugar, health experts have warned
TYPICAL LUNCH EXAMPLE ONE
- Cathedral City cheese sandwich with white bread and margarine (made with 22.5g cheese and 10g margarine)
- 24g bag of Hula Hoops
- Mr Kipling Angel Slice (33g)
- 200ml Capri Sun Fruit Drink
TOTAL CALORIES: 738 kcal
TOTAL SUGAR: 60g sugar (15 teaspoons)
TOTAL FAT: 26g fat
TOTAL SALT: 1.8g salt
This packed lunch contains more than five times (514 per cent) the amount of free sugars that a seven to 10 year-old should have at lunchtime.
It also has more than the recommended amount of energy (143 per cent), saturated fat (139 per cent) and salt (114 per cent).
Children eating this will consume more than one and a half times (153 per cent) the free sugars limit recommended for a seven to 10 year-old in a whole day, 43 per cent of their recommended daily energy and 42 per cent of their saturated fat.
Researchers analysed 365 million packed lunches eaten by schoolchildren last year
TYPICAL LUNCH EXAMPLE TWO
- Ham sandwich with brown bread and margarine (using 14g unsalted butter, 23g slice of ham)
- 25g bag of Walkers Regular crisps
- Yoplait Petits Filous Frube (2 x tubes, manufacturer’s recommended portion size)
- Kit Kat 2 finger biscuit (21g)
- Regular blackcurrant no added-sugar squash (200ml)
TOTAL CALORIES: 735 kcal
TOTAL SUGAR: 39g (10 teaspoons)
TOTAL FAT: 33g fat
TOTAL SALT: 1.7g salt
This packed lunch delivers more than two and a half times (274 per cent) the amount of free sugar that a seven to 10 year-old should have at lunchtime.
It also has almost double (191 per cent) the recommended amount of saturated fat and more than the recommended amount of energy (126 per cent).
SO WHAT SHOULD YOU BE PUTTING IN YOUR CHILD’S LUNCH?
The Children’s Food Trust has come up with the following food cheats to help children have an enjoyable but healthy lunchbox.
Instead of chocolate bars or cereal bars, pack lower-sugar alternatives like scones, malt loaf, fruit bread, plain popcorn or fruit in sugar-free jelly.
Avoid processed fruit snacks, choose fresh fruit or plain dried fruit.
Switching biscuits for rice cakes is a recommendation by the Children’s Food Trust
Instead of crisps, try plain rice cakes, oat cakes or breadsticks with cheese or unsalted nuts (check nut policies in schools first.
Get children involved in choosing and preparing what goes into their lunchbox, to help encourage them to eat it.
Pre-prepared fruit and veg are generally more expensive than doing it yourself, so get some small pots and prep them yourself to cut the cost.
Using leftovers as part of packed lunches is a good way to cut down the prep time, but make it’s cooled and stored properly.
Make sure that what you pack is easy for little fingers to open, and to eat.
Children often love a bit of DIY – wraps and pots of fillings can be more exciting if they get to put them together.
Dipping foods rule for many kids, so give breadsticks or toast fingers, veg sticks and a pot of houmous or our fabulous fish pate a try.
Source: The Children’s Food Trust