Gobsmacked! Our dietitian’s reaction to a typical Aussie lunchbox

By Kate Callaghan |

aussie lunchboxes

Ever stopped to really think about those little boxes and bags being lugged back and forth five days a week by kids to playgrounds and lunch rooms across the country? Sure, they’re packed with love, but are they packed with enough goodness to keep Aussie kids healthy?

We could be accused of harping on a bit about lunchboxes but the truth is, you guys like reading about them, and right now school canteens aren’t really offering much in the way of healthy alternatives.

So today we’re doing something a bit different. We’ve taken some shots of typical Aussie lunchboxes and asked our go-to dietitian and holistic nutritionist to rate and comment on each one.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s good and what’s bad and this exercise was certainly an eye-opener for all of us.

4 typical Aussie lunchboxes and how they rate:

Lunchbox #1: 

How much sugar’s inside: Thins chips: 0.9 grams, Le Snack: 1 gram, Apricot bar: 6.7 grams, Yoplait yoghurt: 7.7 grams, Nutella: 10.9 grams, 2 slices white bread: 3.5 grams.

= 30.7 grams, or 7.3 teaspoons of sugar (*the World Health Organisation recommends no more than 3 teaspoons of added sugar for children each day).

Our dietitian says: The muesli bar might seem like a healthy option in this one, but it’s far from it. This one in particular is around 20% sugar and is full of other not-so-healthy ingredients, such as vegetable oils, flavours and preservatives, which can negatively affect digestion, behavior and overall health.

The Nutella, as much as it tastes delicious, is 50% sugar and contains 2 teaspoons per serve! Again, the white bread is highly refined and devoid of nutrients – it has nothing going for it. The Le Snak, while it is relatively low in sugar, is not the best choice – the cheese in this product is highly processed with dodgy ingredients, such as margarine, emulsifiers, preservatives and colours. It would be just as easy (and maybe cheaper) to pop in some freshly sliced cheese and crackers.

The flavoured yoghurt is another sugar bomb – a much healthier option would be some full fat plain yoghurt in a container with some fresh or frozen berries. The best product in this lunch box would be the potato chips, however even they contain vegetable oils, which promote inflammation in the body.

Lunchbox #2: 

How much sugar’s inside: Choc chip biscuits: 8.7 grams, Chocolate milk: 16.3 grams, 1/2 orange: 4 grams, 2 slices white bread: 3.5 grams, Processed cheese stick: negligible,1 teaspoon Vegemite: negligible.

= 32.5 grams, or 7.7 teaspoons of sugar.*

Our dietitian says: The best thing about this lunchbox is the orange – even though it contributes to the sugar, at least it provides something in the way of nutrients (vitamin C and fibre).

The chocolate chip cookies and chocolate milk are full of sugar and devoid of vitamins and minerals (unless they have been fortified with synthetic nutrients), and are setting the child up to prefer sweet tastes, which can lead to poor eating behaviours and food choices later in life.

The vegemite is an Australian staple and can provide B vitamins (though there are far better sources, in my opinion), however slathering it on white bread negates any potential beneficial effect. The cheese stick is highly processed – again, a better option would be a few slices of unprocessed, hard cheese.

Lunchbox #3:

How much sugar’s inside: Grapes: 16.3 grams, Muesli bar: 11.7 grams, Sakatas chicken: 0.4 grams, Golden tropical popper drink: 24.9 grams, Bread roll: 4 grams, Slice of ham: negligible, Slice of cheese: negligible.

= 57.3 grams, or 13.6 teaspoons of sugar.*

Our dietitian says: On the surface, this one doesn’t look too bad – a “natural” muesli bar, a juice, some fresh fruit… but delve a little deeper and you will find there is not much going for this lunchbox, and it is likely to set the child up for a sugar-crash later in the day – probably just in time for pick up when you, as a parent, get to deal with it!

The small bunch of grapes are very high in sugar, and although these are “natural sugars,” there are much better, lower sugar, higher fibre choices around when it comes to fruit. The juice is not really juice, it is a “fruit drink” which is basically just like drinking sugar water or soft drink. Having these on a regular basis can lead to issues such as obesity, blood sugar management issues and dental problems.

The crackers might seem like a healthier alternative to biscuits, and definitely are better in terms of sugar, however the list of other ingredients in these is enough to make your head spin, including vegetable oils, flavour enhancers, preservatives, hydrogenated soybean oil (which is a trans fat) and hydrolysed vegetable protein. Here’s a tip – if an ingredients list has a bunch of numbers on there that you do not recognize, put it back on the shelf.

Lunchbox #4: Our take on the typical Aussie lunchbox.

How much sugar’s inside: Kiwi fruit: 9 grams, Tomatoes: 1 gram, Sakatas: 0.4 grams, Carrot: 1 gram, ¼ avocado: negligible, 2 slices of cucumber: negligible, 2 eggs: negligible, Water with lemon slices: negligible.

= 11.4 grams, or 2.7 teaspoons of sugar.* (This lunchbox contains no added sugar. The sugars we have listed are naturally occurring in whole foods and safe for kids.)

Our dietitian says: I love how low-fuss this whole-food based lunchbox is! Here is an example of how to get your child JERFing (just eating real food): there are actual veggies in this box, which were completely lacking in all of the other lunch boxes.

It’s important to expose children to a variety of vegetables as often as possible, to help them develop tastes and preferences towards them (this can take time, repetition and patience – stick with it!). Remember – lifelong food preferences and eating behaviours are established at an early age – these are important years!

There are some great, whole-food sources of fats and proteins in this lunchbox, which will help nourish your child’s growing body and brain. The eggs are what I like to call “nature’s multi-vitamin,” as they are packed with vitamins and minerals, as well as healthy fats and protein. Eggs are also a great source of choline, which is essential for developing brains.

The cheese is unprocessed and provides a great source of protein, fat and calcium. The avocado delivers a healthy dose of mono-unsaturated fats and vitamin E. The crackers are the plain variety, so should be free of all of the added nasties found in the flavoured varieties.

Kiwi fruit is a fantastic, low-sugar fruit option, which is also abundant in vitamin C and fibre. Finally – water with fresh lemon! Chances are your child is going to be running around all day playing tag with his or her friends and will need to stay hydrated. Water is the best source of hydration and should always be on offer. The lemon will give it a nice subtle flavour and a boost of vitamin C.

Were you surprised to see the nutritional breakdown of these lunchboxes? What do you like to feed your kids to up their nutrition? Tell us below!

Please be respectful of other participants in the conversation. We'd love you to keep your comments respectful, friendly and relevant. Differences of opinion are welcome, but trolling and abuse of other commentators and the IQS editorial team is not and will result in blacklisting.

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