Lunchbox snacks

How much energy, fat, sugar and sodium in those snacks?

Lunchbox with sandwich and fruit and veg

For convenience, a packaged snack can be a time-saver to pop in the kids’ lunchbox. But do they get good marks for nutrition? We looked at 84 to find out.

Eating healthy food helps children concentrate and learn, so a nutritious lunch is important. But our survey found many products marketed as ideal lunchbox fillers are high in saturated fat, sugar or sodium.

Sugar

All the bars and biscuits, and most of the packaged fruit products we looked at got a red light for sugar. Added sugar (not occurring naturally in fruit or plain milk) provides energy but no nutrients. It also contributes to tooth decay, especially the sticky fruit bars that can get stuck in teeth.

In some products, the sugar was from real fruit or vegetables.

Four products (Cinderella California Raisins, Kiwigarden Apple Slices, Kiwigarden Sweet Corn Kernels and Sunbeam Sultana and Cranberry) were 100% fruit or vege.

Bliss balls and dried fruit and nut snack packs don’t have added sugar either – though you don’t want to stack your child’s lunchbox with dried fruit because it’s high in sugar and sticks to teeth.

However, don’t be tricked into thinking all “fruit” products are equal. Bluebird Real Fruit Bars contain 27% fruit plus sugar, icing sugar and glucose. Essential’s Fruit Bars have 25% fruit, but their main ingredient is sugar.

Pams Fruit O’s and Nice & Natural Fruit Zombies claim to be made with 65% fruit juice but with their added glucose syrup and sugar, they are a poor substitute for a piece of fruit.

Sodium

A 5- to 6-year-old should have no more than 1400mg of sodium per day. But the sodium hit in a lunchbox can quickly add up. If you pop in a Little Ripper Mild Salami Stick, Pams Tasty Cheese Slice and packet of Shultz Mini Pretzels, that’s 60% of the recommended upper daily limit in just three snacks.

Check the nutrition information panel even if you’re buying the same product in a different flavour. Home Brand Cassava Vegetable Crisps Original BBQ have a half more sodium than the Original flavour. Processed cheese slices have more sodium than a cheese spread or cheese stick.

Saturated fat

Pams Tasty Cheese Slices were the highest in saturated fat – 18.9g per 100g. All the biscuits we looked at, and some crackers and chips, were also high in saturated fat. Better options include bagel bites, rice crackers and popcorn (although steer clear of buttery varieties, which will be higher in saturated fat).

Cheese products are high in saturated fat, although at least they provide calcium so have some merit. A yoghurt “suckie” or pouch will also provide calcium without the high levels of saturated fat. But check the ingredients list of yoghurts. Added sugar can make these products super sweet.

Pack size

Lunchbox fillers should be less than 600 kilojoules per serve. That’s about the equivalent kilojoules of a banana (although a banana will fill a kid up much more than these products, and they’ll also get extra fibre, vitamins and minerals).

The serving sizes of the bliss balls in our survey ranged from one Frooze Ball (14g) to 5 balls in the Tom & Luke Snackaballs packet (70g). If you ate the whole pack of Tom and Luke’s in one go, that’s the equivalent of 2 bananas.

Convenience costs

You’re often paying for the convenience of single-serve portions. We paid 50¢ for a 20g packet in a multi-pack of Peckish rice crackers. A 100g packet costs $2, which works out as 40¢ for a 20g portion. These small savings can add up over time – especially if you’re packing a few lunchboxes every day.

Fruit, popcorn and crackers can also be repackaged into leak-proof containers or other reusable packaging. This saves you money and you won’t be buying lots of unnecessary packaging.

Lunchbox switch

The snacks in the red lunchbox below have 800 more kilojoules, and 7 times more saturated fat and sodium than the snacks in the green lunchbox. That’s two-thirds of the recommended maximum daily sodium limit for a 5- to 6-year-old.

The amount of sugar in both lunchboxes is similar, but the sugar in the green box mainly comes from fruit rather than added sugars. The green lunchbox also has more unprocessed foods, nutrients and fibre.

Green lunchbox

  • Apple
  • 4 cherry tomatoes
  • Popcorn (small container)
  • 10 almonds
  • Bega Cheese Stringer 20g

Red lunchbox

  • Essentials Fruit Bar
  • Cookie Time Rookie Cookie
  • Arnott's Shapes Originals Mini Chicken Crimpy
  • Little Ripper Salami Stick
  • Pams Tasty Cheese Slice

Don’t forget a drink. Kids need plenty of fluids to keep them well hydrated. Water is the best choice, but if you do include a flavoured drink as an occasional treat, check the ingredients list. “Fruit drinks” aren’t “fruit juice”. They only have to contain a minimum 5% fruit content, so they’re often little more than sugar and water.

Snacks to stay away from

Nutella & Go

With only 13 percent hazelnuts, the main ingredient is sugar. It’s also high in saturated fat.

Pams Tasty Cheese Slices

With nearly 20 percent saturated fat and 1270mg of sodium per 100g this is the worst cheese option in our survey.

Essentials Fruit Bars

These sweet-like bars with added sugar are a poor substitute for a piece of fruit.

Little Ripper Mild Salami Stick

Although low in sugar, these salami sticks have a whopping 1720mg of sodium per 100g and high levels of saturated fat.

Minees

At 18¢ a serving, these cookies come at a mini price. But each packet has more than 3 teaspoons of sugar and high levels of saturated fat.

About our survey

We analysed the labels of 84 products packaged in single-serve portions and marketed as ideal for popping in a lunchbox. Our survey doesn’t cover the whole market – but you can use our criteria to compare other products.

We’ve used green, orange and red traffic light criteria to show the saturated fat, sugar and sodium in the products.

Saturated fat (g/100g):

≤1.5 1.6-5.0 >5

Sugar (g/100g):

≤5 5.1-22.5 >22.5

Sodium (mg/100g):

≤120 121-600 >600

GUIDE TO THE TABLES PRICE is the price we paid per serve. HEALTH STARS nc = not calculated. Sugar Afirst ingredient comes from fruit (not fruit juice) or vegetables, and sugar isn’t one of the first 3 ingredients.

Bars

Snack bars[width=28%] Price per serve ($)[width=8%] Health Stars[width=8%] Energy (kJ/serve)[width=8%] Saturated fat (g/100g)[width=8%] Saturated fat (g/serve)[width=8%] Sugar (g/100g)[width=8%] Sugar (tsps/serve)[width=8%] Sodium (mg/100g)[width=8%] Sodium (mg/serve)[width=8%]
Kellogg's LCMs Choc Chip (22g) 0.65 1.5 380 5.5 1.2 31.4 1.7 315 69
Kellogg's LCMs Kaleidos (22g) 0.65 1.5 380 4.3 0.9 34.5 1.9 230 50
Kellogg's LCMs Split Stix Chocolatey (23g) 0.63 1.5 410 8 1.8 35.6 2.1 230 52
Oki-Doki Disco Bits Bars (27g) 0.58 nc 517 10.6 2.9 42.4 2.9 100 27

Biscuits

Biscuits[width=28%] Price per serve ($)[width=8%] Health Stars[width=8%] Energy (kJ/serve)[width=8%] Saturated fat (g/100g)[width=8%] Saturated fat (g/serve)[width=8%] Sugar (g/100g)[width=8%] Sugar (tsps/serve)[width=8%] Sodium (mg/100g)[width=8%] Sodium (mg/serve)[width=8%]
Arnott's Fun Sticks Choc (18g) 0.50 1.5 355 7.9 1.4 33.6 1.5 240 43
Arnott's Minis Chocolate Chip Cookies (25g) 0.57 0.5 520 14.6 3.6 29.7 1.9 291 73
Arnott's Tiny Teddy Choc Chip (25g) 0.40 1.5 470 7.5 1.9 27.9 1.8 280 70
Arnott's Tiny Teddy Chocolate (25g) 0.40 2.0 460 6.5 1.6 25.3 1.6 298 75
Arnott's Tiny Teddy Honey (25g) 0.40 1.5 463 7.1 1.8 25.2 1.6 317 79
Cookie Time The Original Chocolate Chunk Rookie Cookie (25g) 0.68 nc 502 13.5 3.4 38.9 2.4 360 90
Global Brands Minees Sandwich Cookies (35g) 0.18 nc 702 9.2 3.2 36.9 3.2 181 63
Leda Dunk-ies (22.5g) 1.08 nc 460 10.8 2.4 34.9 2.0 39 9
Oreo Wafer Sticks Milk Chocolate (12.8g) 0.37 nc 280 15.8 2 40.2 1.3 138 18
Park Avenue Paw Patrol Character Cookies (20g) 0.45 nc 368 7.8 1.6 22.9 1.2 230 46
Nutella & Go (48g) 1.49 nc 1025 9.4 4.5 43.7 5.3 255 122
Wheelies (30g) 0.35 nc 556 9.7 2.9 30 2.3 249 74

Chips & crackers

Chips & Crackers[width=28%] Price per serve ($)[width=8%] Health Stars[width=8%] Energy (kJ/serve)[width=8%] Saturated fat (g/100g)[width=8%] Saturated fat (g/serve)[width=8%] Sugar (g/100g)[width=8%] Sugar (tsps/serve)[width=8%] Sodium (mg/100g)[width=8%] Sodium (mg/serve)[width=8%]
Abe's Bagel Bites Marlborough Sea Salt (15g) 0.56 nc 278 1.2 0.2 6.5 0.3 1020 153
Abe's Bagel Bites Marmite (15g) 0.56 nc 279 1.3 0.2 5.8 0.2 1030 155
Abe's Bagel Bites Vegemite (15) 0.56 nc 269 1 0.2 6.4 0.3 800 120
Arnott's Shapes Light & Crispy Tasty Cheddar & Chives (20g) 0.50 2.0 376 2.2 0.4 2.4 0.1 850 170
Arnott's Shapes Originals Mini Chicken Crimpy (25g) 0.40 2.0 493 3.8 1 6.9 0.4 866 216
Bluebird Grain Waves Sour Cream & Chives (18g) 0.28 2.0 374 3.8 0.7 9.1 0.4 500 90
Bluebird Ready Salted Chips (18g) 0.28 nc 405 15.9 2.9 0.5 0.0 434 78
Bluebird Twisties Cheese (18g) 0.28 1.0 383 12.4 2.2 8.3 0.4 661 119
Go Nutz Peanut Butter Dippers with Savoury Crackers (22g) 0.50 2.5 510 10.2 2.2 2.2 0.1 340 74
Go Nutz Rice Crackers & Cheese Dippers (19g) 0.50 1.5 208 7.9 1.5 0.5 0.0 600 114
Healtheries Kidscare Potato Stix Salt & Vinegar (20g) 0.63 nc 358 1.2 <1 <1 <0.25 656 131
Healtheries Kidscare Rice Wheels Cheese (18g) 0.50 2.0 329 1.6 0.3 3.3 0.2 705 127
Home Brand Cassava Vegetable Crisps Original (12g) 0.25 nc 266 2.5 0.3 8.1 0.3 790 95
Home Brand Cassava Vegetable Crisps Original BBQ (12g) 0.25 nc 253 2.1 0.3 10.1 0.3 1200 144
Home Brand Cassava Vegetable Crisps Sour Cream & Chives (12g) 0.25 nc 253 2.1 0.3 11.3 0.4 1100 132
Le Snak Cheese Dip with Crispbread (22g) 0.67 0.5 376 15.4 3.4 5.9 0.3 985 217
New Zealand Kettle Korn Lightly Salted Slightly Sweet (17g) 0.45 nc 340 2.9 0.5 24.7 1.1 355 60
Pams Dip n' Go Cheese (22g) 0.47 nc 318 11 2.4 1.4 0.1 952 209
Pams Mini Rice Crackers BBQ Flavour (15g) 0.23 2.5 244 1.7 0.3 1.9 0.1 553 83
Pams Mini Rice Crackers Original (15g) 0.23 3.0 250 0.5 0.1 0.7 0.0 527 79
Peckish Flavoured Rice Crackers Cheddar Cheese (20g) 0.50 nc 355 2.5 0.5 2.6 0.1 560 112
Peckish Rice Crackers Original Flavour (20g) 0.50 nc 373 1.5 0.3 <1 <0.25 340 68
Pop 'n' Good Popcorn Caramel Flavoured Popcorn (15g) 0.50 nc 267 2.9 <1 58.3 2.2 230 34.5
Pop 'n' Good Popcorn Light & Buttery Popcorn (12g) 0.50 nc 232 7 <1 <1 <0.25 290 35
Shultz Mini Pretzels (28g) 0.59 nc 453 <1 <1 1.7 <0.25 1072 300

Fruit & nut products

Fruit & Nut Products[width=28%] Price per serve ($)[width=8%] Health Stars[width=8%] Energy (kJ/serve)[width=8%] Saturated fat (g/100g)[width=8%] Saturated fat (g/serve)[width=8%] Sugar (g/100g)[width=8%] Sugar (tsps/serve)[width=8%] Sodium (mg/100g)[width=8%] Sodium (mg/serve)[width=8%]
Aunt Betty's Creamy Rice Snack with Coconut Milk (120g) 1.25 nc 753 9.6 11.5 8.3 2.5 122 146
Bluebird Real Fruit Flavoured Bars Strawberry(20g) 0.44 1.5 325 4.8 1 62.5 3.1 48 10
Cinderella California Raisins (14g) 0.24 3.5 186 0.3 0.04 69.5 (A) 2.4 18 3
Dole Fruit & Custard Mango (123g) 1.25 nc 482 2.1 2.6 12.8 3.9 55 68
Dole Fruit & Jelly Peach (123g) 1.25 nc 398 <1 <1 18 5.5 24 30
Dole Fruit & Juice Peach (113g) 1.25 nc 328 <1 <1 15.9 4.5 6 7
Essentials Fruit Bars (20g) 0.22 1.5 327 3.4 <1 68.2 3.4 50 10
Fresh Life Cranberry & Nut Mix (30g) 0.90 nc 636 3.9 1.2 29 2.2 12 <5
Frooze Balls Fudgetastic (14g) 0.46 nc 226 4.3 0.6 42.4 (A) 1.5 79 11
GoodnessMe Fruit Nuggets Raspberry & Blueberry Duo (17g) 0.56 nc 249 <1 <1 62.6 2.7 50 9
Kiwigarden Banana & Honey Yoghurt Drops (9g) 1.20 nc 152 4.5 0.4 56.8 (A) 1.3 142 13
Kiwigarden Crunchy Apple Slices (9g) 1.20 3.0 149 0.5 0.1 76.3 (A) 1.7 9 1
Kiwigarden Mixed Berry Yoghurt Drops (9g) 1.20 nc 153 6.4 0.6 63.1 (A) 1.4 179 16
Kiwigarden Sweet Corn Kernels (9g) 1.20 5.0 143 2 0.2 34.4 (A) 0.8 4 0.4
Mother Earth Fruit Sticks Apple (19g) 0.41 3.0 268 1.6 0.3 25.5 1.2 232 44
Mother Earth Vege Fruit Sticks Spinach, Apple, Blueberry & Banana (19g) 0.41 3.0 262 1.6 0.3 26.6 1.3 228 43
Nice & Natural Fruit Zombies (17g) 0.44 nc 241 <1 <1 60.2 2.6 50 9
Pams Fruit O's Mixed Fruit (17g) 0.32 2.0 250 0 0 54.6 2.3 34 6
Pams Peaches in Mango Jelly (125g) 0.82 3.5 375 0 0 15.5 4.9 13 16
Select Apple in Pineapple Flavoured Jelly (120g) 1.00 3.0 383 <0.1 <0.1 18 5.4 37 44
Sunbeam Sultana & Cranberry (39g) 0.67 3.0 550 0.3 <0.1 70.2 (A) 6.9 24 9
Sunreal Dried Apricots (25g) 0.69 4.0 221 0 0 45.5 (A) 2.9 8 2
Tasti Fruitsies Apple Vanilla (20g) 0.43 3.5 294 1 0.2 36 1.8 240 48
Tasti Milkies Choc Strawberry (20g) 0.43 4.0 281 1.9 0.4 20.4 1.0 237 47
Tasti Scroggin Snack Bags (35g) 0.72 3.0 685 7.2 2.5 40.1 3.5 16 6
Tasti Smooshed Wholefood Balls Peanut Butter & Caramel (34.5g) 1.00 nc 641 5 1.7 36.9 (A) 3.2 180 62
Tom & Luke Snackaballs Peanut Butter & Cacao (70g) 1.89 4.0 1230 4.3 3 35.4 (A) 6.2 365 256
Wattie's Fruit Squirtz Apple & Strawberry Puree (120g) 1.00 4.0 340 0.1 0.1 13.4 (A) 4 <5 <5

In the chiller

In The Chiller[width=28%] Price per serve ($)[width=8%] Health Stars[width=8%] Energy (kJ/serve)[width=8%] Saturated fat (g/100g)[width=8%] Saturated fat (g/serve)[width=8%] Sugar (g/100g)[width=8%] Sugar (tsps/serve)[width=8%] Sodium (mg/100g)[width=8%] Sodium (mg/serve)[width=8%]
Anchor Uno Smooth Yoghurt Mixed Berry (100g) 1.59 3.0 350 2.2 2.2 7.3 1.8 41 41
Bega Stringers Orginal (20g) 0.75 nc 260 14.7 2.9 <1 <0.25 650 130
Chesdale Edam Processed Cheese Slices (20.8g) 0.28 nc 271 17.2 3.6 3.2 0.2 1190 250
Dairyworks Edam Natural Cheese Sticks (20g) 0.52 nc 292 16 3.2 <1 <0.25 708 142
Fresh 'n Fruity Boysenberry & Cream Yoghurt (150g) 1.79 nc 566 1.6 2.4 10.8 4.1 35 53
Home Brand Edam Cheese & Crackers (30g) 1.12 1.0 459 12.4 3.7 <1 <0.25 699 210
Little Rippers Minis Cheesy Flavour (10g) 0.50 nc 144 11.3 1.1 1.5 0.1 1500 150
Little Rippers Salami Sticks Mild Flavour (18g) 1.12 nc 240 9.1 1.6 1.9 0.1 1720 310
Mainland Tasty Cheese and Crackers (30g) 1.60 nc 531 16.4 4.9 2.8 0.2 820 246
Moogurt Berry Yoghurt Suckies (70g) 1.20 nc 287 1.6 1.1 11.8 2.1 68 47
Pams Tasty Cheese Slices (21g) 0.22 1.5 275 18.9 3.9 2.2 0.1 1270 265
The Collective Blueberry Suckie Spouches (100g) 1.63 nc 394 1.6 1.6 11.2 2.8 67 67
The Laughing Cow Cheese Spread (16g) 0.44 nc 181 15.5 2.5 6.5 0.3 650 104
The Laughing Cow Cheez Dippers (35g) 1.25 nc 418 9.5 3.3 4.5 0.4 650 228
Yoplait Petit Miam Blueberry Yoghurt (70g) 1.15 nc 215 1.5 1.1 7.7 1.4 48 34

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