58% of parents believe lunches prepared at home are healthier than school dinners, but are they?
- 6.6 million (75%) UK schoolchildren tuck into a packed lunch each day.
- Parents believe lunches prepared at home are the healthier option but biscuits, sweets and crisps are still a popular addition.
- Dr Subashini M, Associate Medical Director at Aviva, offers tips to help establish healthier eating habits in childhood and avoid health complications in adulthood.
Almost 3 in 5 (58%) parents believe lunches prepared at home are the healthier option for their children than school dinners, with 6.6million1 (75%) UK school children tucking in to them each day. However, new analysis from Aviva2 reveals that despite parents’ well-intentioned efforts, many packed lunches may contain significant amounts of hidden sugar and unhealthy treats.
Research into the nation’s school lunchboxes reveals that just over two fifths (41%) do not contain a single portion of vegetables, while almost one in 10 (9%) do not contain a single portion of fruit.
Snacks are a popular choice with nearly three in four (72%) parents including at least one bag of crisps a day. Lunchboxes also contain sugary treats like biscuits (59%), chocolate (49%) and cake (47%).
Percentage of lunchboxes containing unhealthy snacks
|Food item||% of lunchboxes containing at least one serving |
|Bag of crisps||72%|
|Bar of chocolate||49%|
|Bag of sweets||37%|
Source: Aviva, 2018
Hidden sugar content of ‘healthy’ snacks
Making healthy choices can be difficult, as foods which appear nutritious can be deceptive. Yoghurts, fruit juice and cereal bars are some of the most popular items for parents to pack for their children, however each of these items can add around two to five cubes of sugar to their lunch.3
Examples of popular lunchbox items and their sugar value
|Food item||Average number of servings ||Typical no. of sugar cubes per serving4 |
Source: Aviva, 2018
The NHS suggests a daily maximum amount of five cubes for four to six year olds, six cubes for seven to 10 year olds and seven cubes for those aged 11+4
While almost 3 in 5 (58%) parents believe they are offering their children a healthier meal by packing it themselves, in fact new school food standards set strict criteria for children’s lunch, with crisps, chocolates and sweets – all popular products in UK lunchboxes – now prohibited from school meals5.
Dr Subashini M, Associate Medical Director at Aviva, comments:
“The eating habits we develop early on in childhood can last well into adulthood which is why it is so important to encourage children to eat a balanced diet from a young age.
“We all like the odd treat now and again but it is important to make sure lunches don’t contain too many of them. Many foods contain hidden sugars – even foods like yoghurt and fruit juice that we think of as healthy.
“Active children burn up lots of calories but as we know too much sugar is not good for anyone so it is important to look at the labels, check for brands with lower sugar levels or substitute snacks for healthier alternatives.”
Top tips for packing a healthier lunchbox:
- Sneak in the vegetables – Adding vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumber to your child’s sandwich can be a quick and easy way to up your child’s vegetable intake throughout the day.
- Make it wholemeal – White bread can be packed with added sugar, while wholemeal bread comes with nutritional benefits and can keep them fuller for longer. If your child is reluctant to swap to wholemeal, why not make the swap gradual, changing just one of their sandwiches to wholemeal a week as a first step.
- Mix it up – While every child has their favourite fruit or sandwich filling, mixing up the contents of their lunchbox can ensure your child has a varied diet, benefitting from a wide range of vitamins and nutrients. Remember that seasonal and locally sourced produce can often retain more nutrients.
- Count the sugar – Snacks that on the surface may seem healthy and harmless such as fruit juice, smoothies, cereal bars and dried fruits, can be hiding a significant amount of sugar. Keep your child’s sugar intake in check by counting up their sugar consumption throughout the day. The NHS suggests a daily maximum amount of five cubes for four to six year olds, six cubes for seven to 10 year olds and seven cubes for those aged 11+.4
1 Schools, pupils and their characteristics: January 2018 75% of total state school population (8,735,098) = 6,551,473
2 Censuswide survey of 2,000 respondents, August 2018
020 7457 2020
Aviva press office