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The Fat Chance

Fact Sheet: Lunch Boxes

Lunch Boxes

Lunchbox Contents
At school children do not have the opportunity to graze. The food they have for breakfast, morning break, lunch and after school becomes more important. It needs to provide sustained energy in order to keep them going all day, prevent fatigue, and maintain levels of concentration in class.

Ensuring children eat enough at meal times and have regular snacks is important. Neglecting meals and snacks can result in children craving 'junk food' or binge eating later. The classic examples of this are children who skip breakfast and consume high energy morning break snacks or children who do not eat their school lunches but raid the fridge and cupboards when they get home and are not hungry at dinner time.

A good rule to follow when packing school lunches is to ensure that you have a selection from all of the food groups and a drink.

  • Include at least 1 piece of fruit 
  • Include 3-4 serves of carbohydrate
  • Include at least 1 serving of dairy food
  • Include a little protein

Lunchbox Ideas

  • Mix grapes, blueberries and strawberries together in a re-sealable bag or try a mix of diced banana and mango. Make fruit easier to eat by cutting it into segments. Pottles of fruit in natural juice are also great fruit options.
  • Using fruit and vegetable that are in season means it will be cheaper.
  • Bread sticks or crackers and cheese dip.
  • Packets of sultans and dried fruit - apricots, dates and apple, for children over five a small amount of dry roasted nuts can be included.
  • Water, diluted fruit juice and milk (low fat for children over 5) are all good options for school lunch boxes. One third fill a drink bottle with water or milk and freeze overnight and top up in the morning. The frozen water, juice or milk will thaw by lunchtime keeping the drink cool and refreshing.
  • Include a hard-boiled egg occasionally.
  • Pasta mixed with favourite salad vegetables and a little lean ham.
  • Sandwiches can become boring, even to children who appear to eat the same things everyday. Introduce variety, not only to the fillings, but also to the types of bread used. Mix and match different breads (one slice of white and one multi grain). Using wraps, pita pickets and different sizes and shapes of rolls will also add variety.
  • Sushi, rice and pasta salads with added fruit and vegetables and lean meats are great alternatives to sandwiches.
  • Tuna and salmon are good alternatives to shaved ham and chicken. Keep them fresh and tasty by placing them next to a frozen drink.
  • Using a cool pack will help keep lunches fresh and appetising, especially in warmer weather.
  • Fresh herbs such as basil and mint can also liven up a salad.
  • For snacks try a couple of pikelets sandwiched together with a little jam, or a pancake spread with pureed fruit and rolled. Buns with pink icing (no jam or coconut) or fruit buns.
  • Muesli Bars - opt for the low fat bars that are baked and are not too large. Avoid muesli bars that contain chocolate chips or are coated in chocolate and sweetened yoghurt.
  • Choose snacks that are low in fat. Learn to read the nutritional information on packs in order to choose snacks that have 5g or less fat per 100g.
  • Homemade, plain popcorn makes a great low fat snack. Coloured pre-packed popcorn is a great alternative.
  • Include dairy in lunch boxes buy using low fat cheeses such as edam. Small pottles of yoghurt are also good options.
  • Package sliced fruit and sticks of raw vegetables such as carrot and celery in Snap Lock® Reseable Bags for easy snacks.
  • Encourage your children to help you bake some cookies. Home baking means you can control the amount of saturated fat and sugar content, while encouraging children to develop an interest in food. At the supermarket look for Farmbake Fruit & Oat Cookies or Griffin's Vita Life range
  • Include 2 snacks, one for the morning and one for the afternoon. A low GI afternoon snack is a great way to help sustain energy levels especially if your children have after school sport or activities and will be home late.
  • Encourage younger children to eat their sandwiches by cutting them into fun shapes. Try triangles or using large biscuit cutters: circles, stars or animal shapes.

School Canteen Options

School canteens or tuckshops can be easy alternatives to making school lunches everyday, but they may not always be the healthiest option available. In New Zealand many schools have recognised the role of diet in achieving good health and the potential to encourage positive eating habits amongst children.

It is a good idea to limit the amount of money children are able to spend at the canteen, as well as setting some guidelines as to the types of food are acceptable.

A 2005 Green party survey found that in 24% of schools a sandwich or roll option was more expensive than a meat pie, encouraging children to purchase the less healthy option.

The Heart Foundation offers a free support programme for schools wanting to move away from lollies, chips, doughnuts and soft drinks. For more information check out:

The Fruit in Schools programme also provides access to a piece of fruit each day for New Zealand school children. To find out more log onto:

Did you know?

  • Children who eat a healthy breakfast and lunch have been proven to be better able to concentrate in the classroom, have better behaviour and are less likely to be ill or absent from school.
  • An article by Consumer Magazine in 2004 compared a school lunch typical of the 1950's with a typical school lunchbox in 2004. It concluded that a typical 2004 school lunch could be contributing a third more kilojoules, double the sugar and more saturated fat as well as fewer vitamins and minerals to daily food intakes.
  • Despite being described as natures convenience food, almost half of New Zealand children do not eat the recommended 2+ servings of fruit per day.
  • Encourage children to eat their school lunch by including them in the process of deciding what goes into their lunchbox.
  • 84% of New Zealand children regularly take food from home to school. 4.5% of New Zealand school children bring no food from home to school.
  • The single greatest contributor to total fat in the diet of New Zealand children comes from the consumption of potatoes, kumara and taro, simply because of the way it is cooked, primarily fried (potato and kumara) and immersed in coconut milk (taro).
  • Over a quarter of the sucrose (the major contributor to total sugars) in the diet of New Zealand children comes from beverages and one fifth from sugar and sweets.
  • In an average week 50% of children will buy some of the food they consume from a school tuckshop or canteen.
  • Maori and Pacific Island children are less likely to bring most of the food they eat at school from home. Rates drop from 91.6% and 90.1% in male and female Europeans to 82.6% and 82.8% in Maori and 49.5% and 56.7% for Pacific Island children.
  • 83% of New Zealand children eat potato crisps, corn snacks or chips weekly.
  • 40% of children eat chocolate bars weekly. A higher proportion of 11-14 year olds eat chocolate weekly than 5-6 and 7-10 year olds.
  • 45% of children drink soft drink weekly. 43% drink Coca-Cola or other cola drinks. 54% drink powdered fruit drink while 32% drink fruit drinks made from concentrate or cordial.
  • Sports drinks are consumed by 8% of children weekly. 
  • Smart drinks such as V and Red Bull are consumed weekly by 6% of children.
  • Over a quarter of sugar or sucrose intake of New Zealand children comes from beverages.
  • Instant noodles are the most commonly consumed convenience food eaten by approximately 50% of children. They are pre fried and contain large amounts of saturated fat and salt.
  • Did you know that a blueberry muffin weighing 80g has 14g fat? Cookie Time cookies have 17g of fat which is equal to about 4 Toffee Pop biscuits. A 32g chocolate chip muesli bar can have as much as 32 grams of fat and an 18g packet of chips can have approximately 6g fat. A 30g packet of sultans has less than 1 gram of fat.