The food in lunchboxes is important because it can impact behaviour, concentration and learning. Learn what's in common lunchbox packets.
Did you know that 30-40% of what your child eats Monday to Friday comes from the food they eat at school?
Food can make us happy, sad, sleepy, grumpy, it can keep us wide awake, it can make you itch, cough, sneeze and more. And scientific research clearly shows it can affect concentration, focus, resilience and academic performance.
This facts make the food your child(ren) eat at school super important. Lunchbox food needs to support your child’s body and brain for growth, development and learning.
Now in Australia, 88% of Australian kids bring lunchboxes from home. To help kids understand the importance of the food in their lunchbox, I tell them that the food they take to school needs to help them Go, Grow and Glow. The foods that do this tend to be foods grown in nature. These foods have all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals that our body knows how to use and needs.
However, it may surprise you to know that the average Australian Lunchbox contains at least 2 packaged snack foods. These packaged snack foods tend to be low in nutritional value and do little to support your child’s learning at school or to help their body grown and develop. Now please know this information is being written from a place of love and respect for parents and with absolutely no judgement. Where-ever you’re at and whatever you pack, is totally perfect.
The Snack food Industry is a $2bn dollar industry. When it comes to packaged snacks for school, their marketing strategy is very clear. There are very strong messages telling parents that these foods are perfect for lunchboxes and lunchbox friendly etc. Of course, when it comes to the taste of these foods, they are made using food science and technology with the intention to hook our kids into loving these foods. This is what creates what is commonly termed the pester power of a product. Or in other words, makes our kids nag us for them.
What I am about to share is purely to raise awareness. Please take this information and use it how you wish.
From data we collected on almost 6,000 lunchboxes from 35 schools, across 343 classes, this is what a common lunchbox looks like, statistically speaking:
- 2 packet foods per lunchbox
- 1 fruit per lunchbox
- 0.4 vegetables per lunchbox
- 70% contain a sandwich
- 73% of sandwiches were white bread
- 50% of the sandwiches contained a spread such as Vegemite, honey, jam.
And when this data is broken down to specifically look at What’s In My Food? for the average 2 packaged snacks, here’s what we found:
- 29 ingredients
- 3.6 teaspoons of sugar (This is alarming. In terms of the World Health Organisations recommendations, this is about what they should have across the entire day)
- 148mg sodium
- 9 additives, 4 of which can be potentially linked to hyperactivity, learning difficulty and behavioural issues.
- 20% of packet foods are chips, 17% are muesli and other sorts of bars, 15% are savoury crackers, 15% are sweet biscuits, 10% are chocolate and lollies, 10% are juices and flavoured milks, 8% are yoghurts and other pouches, the balance is fruit or jelly cups and the like.
Now let’s just take chips as an example because they are the most common lunchbox snack. When researching for my book The Lunchbox Effect, we asked What’s In My Food? for 91 different varieties of chips. Here’s what we found on average about chips
- 12.4 ingredients
- negligible sugar
- 128mg sodium
- 3.4 additives
- 40 products out of the 91 reviewed had additives potentially linked to learning difficulties
- 44 products out of the 91 reviewed had additives potentially linked to behavioural issues
- 21 products out of the 91 reviewed had additives potentially linked to hyperactivity
- 40 products out of the 91 reviewed had additives potentially linked to depression
- 44 products out of the 91 reviewed had additives potentially linked to headaches and migraines
- 44 products out of the 91 reviewed had additives potentially linked to asthma (one of the leading causes children are absent from school)
- 17 products out of the 91 reviewed had additives potentially linked to sleep disturbance
- 32 products out of the 91 reviewed had additives potentially linked to learning eczema and other skin conditions.
Does this surprise you?
Many parents simply do not recognise this. You may also like to explore this article about Can Food Additives Really Affect Children’s Behaviour? In that article you will find a list of additive numbers that have been identified as potentially affecting behaviour.
When we’re teaching children about all of this, we share with them about how this food can give you a quick burst of energy, then how the energy runs out quickly too. This is usually when you’re back in your school chair. And then we explain that sometimes these foods have ingredients that can impact their ability to sit still and behave in class.
After this, we then ask them the question of “why do you come to school?”. Of course, kids say to learn and to play with their friends. The next question we ask them is “so if you come to school to learn and play nicely with your friends, does it makes sense that you bring food to school that can impact make you slump in your chair and not be able to concentrate very well?”.
And do you know what, kids are smart. They get it. There is pretty much a chorus of No.
So here is the thing...
There is no denying packaged snacks are convenient for packing into lunchboxes, but are they really perfect for lunchboxes if the food is not supporting your child’s body, brain, resilience or learning capacity?
Are we trading convenience for our children’s health, behaviour and learning?
These are interesting questions to ponder, don’t you think?
I am going to leave you with the words that we use to empower kids with through our Children’s Health Schools Program.
- If you have 2 packet foods in your lunchbox today, then you can make a better choice for your One Body for Life tomorrow, simply by leaving one at home and packing an extra piece of of fruit or vegetable.
- And if you want to have packaged food, just practice asking What’s In My Food? first. When you turn the packet around and look at the ingredients, you get to make a conscious choice about whether you want your child to have those ingredients in their learning day.
If you want to learn more about what's in almost 500 common packet foods, learn a simple way to talk to your kids about packet food and find some simple swaps, check out my book The Lunchbox Effect.
If you'd like your whole school community - teachers, parents and kids - to understand more about what's in their food and how to take better care of their body, then our Children's Health Program for schools maybe of interest to you. Learn more about that here.