What’s in our kids’ lunch boxes?

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Updated

February 12, 2019 17:03:05

We visited schools from one of the poorest and wealthiest suburbs in the same city and took a peek inside kids’ lunch boxes. Here’s what we found.

It’s a relentless dilemma most parents can relate to — what to put in your child’s lunch box that is quick to make, affordable, healthy, and won’t come home uneaten at the end of the day. Easy, right?

And for some families it’s a struggle to send anything at all.

We decided to visit two schools from different parts of Melbourne — Broadmeadows, one of the city’s most disadvantaged areas; and Brighton, one of the most wealthy — to photograph what was in children’s lunchboxes.

This was the most impressive

Paediatric nutritionist Mandy Sacher identified this lunch, which included a homemade couscous salad, as the best out of all the ones we photographed.

(The student packing this one actually said they had made the salad themselves!)

And these were the most concerning

Ms Sacher said the most confronting lunches were in Broadmeadows, where teachers said it was also not uncommon for kids to turn up to school with no lunch at all.

Here’s what lunch looks like in Broadmeadows…

The median weekly household income in Broadmeadows is $900, well below the Australia-wide median of $1,440.

And here’s lunch in Brighton…

The median weekly household income in Brighton is $2,410, well above the Australia-wide median of $1,440.

How much did the economic differences change kids’ lunches?

Not a lot, nutritionist Mandy Sacher says.

But there did seem to be a tendency towards somewhat lower sugar levels in the wealthier area.

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“In Brighton most of them had a serve of vegies and fruit,” she said. “In Broadmeadows I did see more sugar, there was definitely a lot more packaged food.

“I actually think those lunch boxes were costing parents more because there was so much store-bought packaged food.”

Overall, she said the sample suggested the challenge of packing an interesting and nutritious lunch box is a universal one.

“There’s not much difference between the two schools,” she said. “Most of them were just bread and packaged food.”

Just one in 17 Aussie children are eating the recommended number of serves of both fruit and vegetables, according to the latest National Health Survey.

Ms Sacher said as a nutritionist she was not interested in pointing fingers, but trying to offer parents simple solutions to fix the problem.

“From a young age we should be setting the standards for long-lasting healthy eating habits.”

Vegemite, ham and Nutella as staples

In this sample of school lunch boxes, most kids turned up each day with a white bread sandwich as their main lunch item.

Vegemite or ham were the fillings of choice for most kids in the wealthier suburb, compared to Nutella in the poorer suburb.

Ms Sacher said none of these options were providing any sustenance.

“The biggest problem with all these lunch boxes across the board is refined carbohydrates and far too much sugar,” she said.

“With just Nutella or Vegemite, you’re not getting protein on those sandwiches.

“They’re going to get a quick fix of sugar, their blood sugar levels are going to spike and then they’re going to drop and they’re going to be hungry.”

Ms Sacher said home-made lunches can have great short and long-term health benefits.

“Children are often labelled with things like ADHD or hyperactivity or they can’t concentrate at school,” she said. “Just by simply starting to change the foods they’re eating you can start to see a difference.”

Five tips for moving away from the Vegemite sandwich

Mandy Sacher is also the founder of Wholesome Child. These are her five tips for packing a healthier lunch that will still get eaten.

1. Multi-tasking meals

Send the kids to school with what you’ve had for dinner is her biggest tip.

“If you look at places like Brazil, France, Japan, China and South Africa, children eat hot meals. Even in hot weather kids can still have a proper meal at school.”

“If you’re having roast chicken, spaghetti bolognaise, homemade pizza, mac and cheese, why is this food not coming to school?

“It may be sending it in a thermos or getting kids used to eating leftovers cold.”

She said dinner could often be converted into a hearty lunch box meal very easily.

“Simply taking some roast chicken and adding it to pasta with maybe a bit of mayonnaise or yoghurt as a creamy dressing, that is not time-consuming and you’re also going to be saving money.”

2. Increase variety

Change it up, she said. A weekly meal planner can mean kids don’t just get used to eating the same thing every day.

Ms Sacher said it was best to introduce foods on the weekend, after school and during play dates before popping them into lunch boxes.

3. Get the kids involved

Everyone knows kids can be fussy.

Making them a part of packing their lunch and getting them to come up with ideas for their meal planner helped increase the amount of things they would eat, Ms Sacher said.

“Let them know, ‘if you want your Vegemite sandwich on the Monday, you can’t have it on the Tuesday, so what are we going to eat?’.

“Number one it saves you time, and you also know that you’re going to be sending them with things that they are going to eat.”

4. Have healthy staples on hand

Ms Sacher recommended spending a couple of hours shopping and preparing food on the weekend, making sure some simple staples are prepared and ready to go.

She said having things like hummus, tuna and mayonnaise, chopped carrots and cucumbers, roasted chickpeas and boiled eggs in the fridge would take pressure off weekday mornings.

“Having those easy foods prepared means that you can just pop them in a lunch box when you’ve run out of time,” she said.

She also suggested preparing some healthier homemade goods — banana bread, vegetable muffins or sweet potato pizza — that can be portioned, frozen and defrosted during the week.

5. Read the labels

Food labels can be confusing and difficult to understand.

In short, Ms Sacher said when looking at similar products on the supermarket shelf, compare sodium, sugar, food additive and preservative levels.

“Overall I tell parents to avoid numbers and food colourings wherever possible — anything that is not food.”

What should I read next?

Topics:

diet-and-nutrition,

primary-schools,

child-health-and-behaviour,

melbourne-3000,

brighton-3186,

broadmeadows-3047

First posted

February 12, 2019 06:20:19



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