Packed lunches fail health test

Healthy diet in children


Only one per cent of children’s packed lunches meet the health standards for school dinners, according to research published yesterday. Workingmums has some tips on how to boost the health impact of your child’s packed lunch.

Researchers from Leeds University analysed the packed lunches of 1,300 children aged eight and nine across the UK. Almost 90% had a packed lunch every day.

Most contained sandwiches, sweets, crisps and artificially sweetened drinks. Very few contained vegetables, milk or fruit juice. Only a tenth had sandwiches containing vegetables and even when healthy options were in the lunchbox, some children did not eat them, with fruit being the least likely item to be eaten.

Less than 10% of children had no sweets, savoury snacks or sugary drinks.

The researchers said their findings were “evidence that the quality of food in children’s packed lunches is poor”.

But what should parents do to health up the contents of their children’s packed lunch, particularly if they cannot guarantee that their children will eat any healthy option on offer?

Most parents have a thousand and one things to do in the mornings before they get the children to school and themselves to work. Preparing packed lunches can seem more of a punishment than a pleasure and the temptation to bung in the kind of things you know they will like and eat is high. There is also a high boredom factor. Just how do you dress up sandwiches day in day out to look exciting?

Healthy packed lunches tips

According to Kids and Nutrition, the art of the packed lunch is not as hard as it might seem.

They suggest varying the type of bread you use for sandwiches – you can use bagels, pitta bread, seedy rolls or sliced bread.

You needn’t just stick to the standard ham, cheese, egg rota for the filling either. Tuna, humous, guacamole, prawn mayo and leftover meat from the night before are all good options. Add in some lettuce or tomato if you can.

Pasta salads – using cold pasta or rice mixed with fish, beans, ham and sweet corn are good options. Or got for pasties, pies, quiches, slices of pizza or samosas, but look for low-fat, low-salt options.

Vary the fruit. Don’t just stick to apples. Satsumas, bananas and soft fruits like blueberries or strawberries in a pot make for a varied diet.

In the cold weather, you can always try soup in a thermos flask and yoghurt, oatcakes, breadsticks and nuts and fruit loaves like banana bread are good options.

Keeping the lunchbox cool may not be top of your priorities in this weather, but when the weather warms up you can keep everything cool and fresh by putting your child’s drink or a tube of yoghurt in the freezer the night before.

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