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Is Your Child's Lunchbox Making them Fat?

Is Your Child's Lunchbox Making them Fat?

Is YOUR child's lunchbox making them obese? Typical lunches contain up to FIVE times the recommended daily amount of sugar

Children's Food Trust in England looked at top foods eaten by under-16s last year.  While some of the particular brands are not available in the U.S., comparable brands of similar foods are readily available, and the results should be the same

The largest study of its kind has found a typical packed lunch serves up more than a six-year-old's entire daily sugar limit.  It cited that products like sugary treats are among the top foods many children ask for because they enjoy the taste – no surprise there.  However, you would be shocked to see how a typical packed lunch stacks up.



This example of a typical lunchbox includes a cheese sandwich on white bread, chips, a packaged drink, a piece of fruit, and a cookie – it contains nearly THREE TIMES the recommended amount of sugar for a 7-10 year old.


  • Cathedral City cheese sandwich with white bread and margarine (made with 22.5g cheese and 10g margarine)
  • 24g bag of Hula Hoops
  • Banana 
  • Mr Kipling Angel Slice (33g)
  • 200ml Capri Sun Fruit Drink 


TOTAL SUGAR: 60g sugar (15 teaspoons)

TOTAL FAT: 26g fat 

TOTAL SALT: 1.8g salt 

This packed lunch contains more than five times (514 per cent) the amount of free sugars that a seven to 10 year-old should have at lunchtime.

It also has more than the recommended amount of energy (143 per cent), saturated fat (139 per cent) and salt (114 per cent).

Children eating this will consume more than one and a half times (153 per cent) the free sugars limit recommended for a seven to 10 year-old in a whole day, 43 per cent of their recommended daily energy and 42 per cent of their saturated fat.

Another example contains a ham sandwich, chips, packaged drink, an apple and a sweat treat contains a staggering 33g of FAT.


  • Ham sandwich with brown bread and margarine (using 14g unsalted butter, 23g slice of ham) 
  • 25g bag of Walkers Regular crisps
  • Yoplait Petits Filous Frube (2 x tubes, manufacturer’s recommended portion size)
  • Kit Kat 2 finger biscuit (21g)
  • Apple 
  • Regular blackcurrant no added-sugar squash (200ml)


TOTAL SUGAR: 39g (10 teaspoons)

TOTAL FAT: 33g fat 

TOTAL SALT: 1.7g salt 

This packed lunch delivers more than two and a half times (274 per cent) the amount of free sugar that a seven to 10 year-old should have at lunchtime.

It also has almost double (191 per cent) the recommended amount of saturated fat and more than the recommended amount of energy (126 per cent).


Both contain almost no nutritional value.  The survey found popular lunchbox brands which contained high levels of sugar include: 

  • Capri Sun orange juice drink (200ml) which contained more than a six year-old’s recommended maximum daily free sugars intake - in 12.7m packed lunches
  • Kit Kat two-finger milk bar (21g) with 48 per cent a seven-year-old's recommended sugar - eaten in 9.4m lunchboxes


Most of the sugars found in these lunches came from free sugars, meaning the kinds that are added to foods – not those naturally occurring in milk or whole fruits and vegetables.


Most parents cited picky eating as the culprit and said they were just glad their children were eating something during the day.  However, such meals are largely just empty calories.  Of the most common foods, bread was most common, with fruit in third place, cookies and chips ranked around 12th.  Sugary drinks came in around 17th, however, nearly one in five lunches included some sort of packaged sugary drink, and gives the average 6 year old their entire recommended daily intake of free sugar.




  • Swap out sugary drinks for milk or water.
  • Instead of cereal bars or cookies, pack lower sugar alternatives like popcorn or scones.
  • Instead of chips try breadsticks with hummus, or unsalted nuts (if they’re allowed in your child’s school).
  • Avoid processed foods like fruit roll-ups and go for the fresh ones.
  • Instead of sandwiches try packing a protein such as grilled chicken or sautéed beef and vegetables. Leftovers from last night’s dinner are a handy go-to, and cut down on prep time.


Try getting your child involved, and packing a DIY lunch.  Kids love to feel in charge and autonomous.  A favorite in our house is tacos and my son loves getting to put it all together himself in school.  I pack the beef in one container, beans or legumes in another, wrap a taco shell or two in tin foil, and include those in the warming portion of our Lava Lunch.  I throw an ice pack in the upper compartment and pack a container of fresh vegetables such as lettuce, diced tomatoes, and corn nibblets.  In a small snack sized container I sometimes include a spoonful of guacamole and/or sour cream, and a spoon.  Then at lunchtime gets to build his own taco and loves feeling so grown-up doing it.


Prepared foods are generally more expensive than doing it yourself, so you can shed expense while you shed sugar and fat.  Bonus.

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