This looks like the average Aussie kid’s lunch box. A sandwich, a few snacks and a drink. Pretty normal, right?

But this typical lunch box is a sign of a worrying trend – time poor parents reaching for convenient snacks, and Cancer Council NSW says this seemingly innocent lunch is packed with nasties.

In fact, a school lunch box with a ham sandwich, BBQ Shapes, Fruit Roll Up, Yogo custard and a fruit drink contains twice the sugar, is twice the cost and has only half of the fibre compared to a healthy lunch box containing a cheese and tomato sandwich, yoghurt, fruit and veggies and a drink bottle filled with water.

But if this is what your child’s lunch box looks like, you’re not alone.

“We recently polled a group of parents and found that 70% of them purchased pre-packaged snacks from supermarkets because it saved them time, they were easy to pack in the lunch box or because their kids pestered them to buy them,” Cancer Council NSW’s Senior Nutrition Program Officer, Nina Tan explained.

Unhealthy school lunch

Healthy School Lunch

Cancer Council NSW analysed 140 popular lunch box snacks, from the snack sections of Woolworths, Coles and ALDI. It found that almost 80%  were unhealthy, despite the packaging claiming ‘no artificial colours or additives,  ‘no preservatives’, and ‘made with real ingredients.’

“We’re particularly concerned because we know that snacks are a big part of the diets of kids, particularly in their lunch boxes. 44% of energy that Australian children consume at school comes from discretionary foods, such as sweet and savoury biscuits and cereal bars. If a child consumes too many of these foods over time it can contribute to unhealthy weight gain,” Ms Tan said.

How to make healthy lunch box swaps

Healthy School Lunch

The charity says it’s made it easier than ever for parents to pack a healthy lunch, using the Healthy Lunch Box site to discover healthy and affordable lunch box swaps.

“We know it’s not easy for parents, and food companies are only making it harder. When it comes to pre-packaged foods, companies are plastering them with nutrition-related marketing claims like ‘source of calcium’ or ‘no artificial…’, and adding colours, cartoon characters and fonts designed to draw in both parents and kids,” Ms Tan said.

“Bright colours, cartoon animals and fun shapes are used to attract children, and text like ‘no need to chill’ and ‘the perfect lunchbox biscuits’ are used to appeal to parents’ desire to make easy and quick lunch box choices for their kids, but these snacks can be packed with sugar, salt and kilojoules and often don’t provide children with the nutrients they need.

“Labelling claims are appealing to time-poor parents who are looking for convenient and healthy pre-packaged snacks, but the foods aren’t always as healthy as they seem.”

The average school child eats more than 2500 lunches over 13 years at school, which highlights just how important it is to make the right choice when packing their lunch.

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  • I did notice no fresh fruit or veggies – but it can be hard for parents.


  • i found the hardest part of lunch was having something that didnt need to be refrigerated – in north qld everything had to be shelf stable in the lunchbox. even a frozen popper wrapped in a teatowel couldnt keep a sandwich cold. I dont know if things are different now, guess i’ll find out in a few years when bub starts school.


  • I did notice there was no fruit. My son’s lunchbox didn’t look like this, but I’ve also since learned he used to swap items with friends for a Roll-Up as I would not buy them!


  • Most of what is in there isn’t great- a pop top isn’t even 100% fruit juice, let alone the fact that juice is not really healthy at all, but is a definite sometimes food. Then we have the chocolate Yogo, again, a treat food and the fact that white bread is being used, unless it’s the kind with hidden fibre that’s very bad for you too and has a lot more sugar.


  • My kids didn’t like sandwiches but were happy to have a salad, which they made themselves. Some Tiny Tim tomatoes, a few lettuce leaves, some cucumber and capsicum sticks and a slice of ham or left-over roast. One or two pieces of fruit and it was done. I felt I was lucky that that was what they wanted.


  • I tried everything with my youngest and he either brought it back home or threw it in the bin at school. All he would eat was a muesli bar and bottle of water. He preferred to come home and eat. Still to this day I don’t know why he wouldn’t eat at school.


  • LOL my daughter would not eat a tomato sandwich, no matter how hard I try. I guess it’s seeing what healthy things they do like and incorporating it into their lunch. I usually try those less sugar yoghurt squeezie’s and freeze them so come morning tea, they’ve defrosted. From a shift worker – it is so hard making it work, especially when it comes home again not touched. It would help if the teachers would participate but they are also time conscious.


  • My kid’s lunchboxes are 95% always filled with healither options. Will always add at least 1 sugary treat (for my 9yo as 4yo kinder is a big NO). But Friday’s, is overal treat day where I will give a nutella wrap or something else. As a reward for hard work all week at school. My 4yo will only get healthy food since kinder is a bit more monitored. Overall, my kids do eat healthy food and everything is in moderation.


  • Wow it really is amazing how much sugar is in some foods. It really makes you stop and reconsider what you put in.


  • Healthy lunch boxes are the best but I totally understand that it gets hard because of many factors and that’s ok as long as the kids eat.


  • At least the kids are getting lunch, sometimes that’s the best parents can do. And plus what kid would eat a tomato sandwich, it would be so soggy by the time they eat it.


  • Sometimes you just have to pack what you can. I’ve had my days where I’ve packed BBQ shapes and a white roll with cream cheese and a piece of fruit. Most days it’s healthy lunches but it’s good to give them a treat.


  • My kids very rarely like sandwiches, so I have had to be very inventive over the years. There are so many wonderful options out there. The first lunch actually looks quite depressing.


  • This is such a difficult task especially with fussy kids


  • Sometimes we need to bend the rules and gave kids what they will eat.


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