Lunchbox with sandwich and fruit and veg

Lunchbox snacks

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.

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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)0.651.5380 5.51.2 31.41.7 31569
Kellogg's LCMs Kaleidos (22g)0.651.5380 4.30.9 34.51.9 23050
Kellogg's LCMs Split Stix Chocolatey (23g)0.631.5410 81.8 35.62.1 23052
Oki-Doki Disco Bits Bars (27g)0.58nc517 10.62.9 42.42.9 10027

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)0.501.5355 7.91.4 33.61.5 24043
Arnott's Minis Chocolate Chip Cookies (25g)0.570.5520 14.63.6 29.71.9 29173
Arnott's Tiny Teddy Choc Chip (25g)0.401.5470 7.51.9 27.91.8 28070
Arnott's Tiny Teddy Chocolate (25g)0.402.0460 6.51.6 25.31.6 29875
Arnott's Tiny Teddy Honey (25g)0.401.5463 7.11.8 25.21.6 31779
Cookie Time The Original Chocolate Chunk Rookie Cookie (25g)0.68nc502 13.53.4 38.92.4 36090
Global Brands Minees Sandwich Cookies (35g)0.18nc702 9.23.2 36.93.2 18163
Leda Dunk-ies (22.5g)1.08nc460 10.82.4 34.92.0 399
Oreo Wafer Sticks Milk Chocolate (12.8g)0.37nc280 15.82 40.21.3 13818
Park Avenue Paw Patrol Character Cookies (20g)0.45nc368 7.81.6 22.91.2 23046
Nutella & Go (48g)1.49nc1025 9.44.5 43.75.3 255122
Wheelies (30g)0.35nc556 9.72.9 302.3 24974

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)0.56nc278 1.20.2 6.50.3 1020153
Abe's Bagel Bites Marmite (15g)0.56nc279 1.30.2 5.80.2 1030155
Abe's Bagel Bites Vegemite (15)0.56nc269 10.2 6.40.3 800120
Arnott's Shapes Light & Crispy Tasty Cheddar & Chives (20g)0.502.0376 2.20.4 2.40.1 850170
Arnott's Shapes Originals Mini Chicken Crimpy (25g)0.402.0493 3.81 6.90.4 866216
Bluebird Grain Waves Sour Cream & Chives (18g)0.282.0374 3.80.7 9.10.4 50090
Bluebird Ready Salted Chips (18g)0.28nc405 15.92.9 0.50.0 43478
Bluebird Twisties Cheese (18g)0.281.0383 12.42.2 8.30.4 661119
Go Nutz Peanut Butter Dippers with Savoury Crackers (22g)0.502.5510 10.22.2 2.20.1 34074
Go Nutz Rice Crackers & Cheese Dippers (19g)0.501.5208 7.91.5 0.50.0 600114
Healtheries Kidscare Potato Stix Salt & Vinegar (20g)0.63nc358 1.2<1 <1<0.25 656131
Healtheries Kidscare Rice Wheels Cheese (18g)0.502.0329 1.60.3 3.30.2 705127
Home Brand Cassava Vegetable Crisps Original (12g)0.25nc266 2.50.3 8.10.3 79095
Home Brand Cassava Vegetable Crisps Original BBQ (12g)0.25nc253 2.10.3 10.10.3 1200144
Home Brand Cassava Vegetable Crisps Sour Cream & Chives (12g)0.25nc253 2.10.3 11.30.4 1100132
Le Snak Cheese Dip with Crispbread (22g)0.670.5376 15.43.4 5.90.3 985217
New Zealand Kettle Korn Lightly Salted Slightly Sweet (17g)0.45nc340 2.90.5 24.71.1 35560
Pams Dip n' Go Cheese (22g)0.47nc318 112.4 1.40.1 952209
Pams Mini Rice Crackers BBQ Flavour (15g)0.232.5244 1.70.3 1.90.1 55383
Pams Mini Rice Crackers Original (15g)0.233.0250 0.50.1 0.70.0 52779
Peckish Flavoured Rice Crackers Cheddar Cheese (20g)0.50nc355 2.50.5 2.60.1 560112
Peckish Rice Crackers Original Flavour (20g)0.50nc373 1.50.3 <1<0.25 34068
Pop 'n' Good Popcorn Caramel Flavoured Popcorn (15g)0.50nc267 2.9<1 58.32.2 23034.5
Pop 'n' Good Popcorn Light & Buttery Popcorn (12g)0.50nc232 7<1 <1<0.25 29035
Shultz Mini Pretzels (28g)0.59nc453 <1<1 1.7<0.25 1072300

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)1.593.0350 2.22.2 7.31.8 4141
Bega Stringers Orginal (20g)0.75nc260 14.72.9 <1<0.25 650130
Chesdale Edam Processed Cheese Slices (20.8g)0.28nc271 17.23.6 3.20.2 1190250
Dairyworks Edam Natural Cheese Sticks (20g)0.52nc292 163.2 <1<0.25 708142
Fresh 'n Fruity Boysenberry & Cream Yoghurt (150g)1.79nc566 1.62.4 10.84.1 3553
Home Brand Edam Cheese & Crackers (30g)1.121.0459 12.43.7 <1<0.25 699210
Little Rippers Minis Cheesy Flavour (10g)0.50nc144 11.31.1 1.50.1 1500150
Little Rippers Salami Sticks Mild Flavour (18g)1.12nc240 9.11.6 1.90.1 1720310
Mainland Tasty Cheese and Crackers (30g)1.60nc531 16.44.9 2.80.2 820246
Moogurt Berry Yoghurt Suckies (70g)1.20nc287 1.61.1 11.82.1 6847
Pams Tasty Cheese Slices (21g)0.221.5275 18.93.9 2.20.1 1270265
The Collective Blueberry Suckie Spouches (100g)1.63nc394 1.61.6 11.22.8 6767
The Laughing Cow Cheese Spread (16g)0.44nc181 15.52.5 6.50.3 650104
The Laughing Cow Cheez Dippers (35g)1.25nc418 9.53.3 4.50.4 650228
Yoplait Petit Miam Blueberry Yoghurt (70g)1.15nc215 1.51.1 7.71.4 4834

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)1.25nc753 9.611.5 8.32.5 122146
Bluebird Real Fruit Flavoured Bars Strawberry(20g)0.441.5325 4.81 62.53.1 4810
Cinderella California Raisins (14g)0.243.5186 0.30.04 69.5 (A)2.4 183
Dole Fruit & Custard Mango (123g)1.25nc482 2.12.6 12.83.9 5568
Dole Fruit & Jelly Peach (123g)1.25nc398 <1<1 185.5 2430
Dole Fruit & Juice Peach (113g)1.25nc328 <1<1 15.94.5 67
Essentials Fruit Bars (20g)0.221.5327 3.4<1 68.23.4 5010
Fresh Life Cranberry & Nut Mix (30g)0.90nc636 3.91.2 292.2 12<5
Frooze Balls Fudgetastic (14g)0.46nc226 4.30.6 42.4 (A)1.5 7911
GoodnessMe Fruit Nuggets Raspberry & Blueberry Duo (17g)0.56nc249 <1<1 62.62.7 509
Kiwigarden Banana & Honey Yoghurt Drops (9g)1.20nc152 4.50.4 56.8 (A)1.3 14213
Kiwigarden Crunchy Apple Slices (9g)1.203.0149 0.50.1 76.3 (A)1.7 91
Kiwigarden Mixed Berry Yoghurt Drops (9g)1.20nc153 6.40.6 63.1 (A)1.4 17916
Kiwigarden Sweet Corn Kernels (9g)1.205.0143 20.2 34.4 (A)0.8 40.4
Mother Earth Fruit Sticks Apple (19g)0.413.0268 1.60.3 25.51.2 23244
Mother Earth Vege Fruit Sticks Spinach, Apple, Blueberry & Banana (19g)0.413.0262 1.60.3 26.61.3 22843
Nice & Natural Fruit Zombies (17g)0.44nc241 <1<1 60.22.6 509
Pams Fruit O's Mixed Fruit (17g)0.322.0250 00 54.62.3 346
Pams Peaches in Mango Jelly (125g)0.823.5375 00 15.54.9 1316
Select Apple in Pineapple Flavoured Jelly (120g)1.003.0383 <0.1<0.1 185.4 3744
Sunbeam Sultana & Cranberry (39g)0.673.0550 0.3<0.1 70.2 (A)6.9 249
Sunreal Dried Apricots (25g)0.694.0221 00 45.5 (A)2.9 82
Tasti Fruitsies Apple Vanilla (20g)0.433.5294 10.2 361.8 24048
Tasti Milkies Choc Strawberry (20g)0.434.0281 1.90.4 20.41.0 23747
Tasti Scroggin Snack Bags (35g)0.723.0685 7.22.5 40.13.5 166
Tasti Smooshed Wholefood Balls Peanut Butter & Caramel (34.5g)1.00nc641 51.7 36.9 (A)3.2 18062
Tom & Luke Snackaballs Peanut Butter & Cacao (70g)1.894.01230 4.33 35.4 (A)6.2 365256
Wattie's Fruit Squirtz Apple & Strawberry Puree (120g)1.004.0340 0.10.1 13.4 (A)4 <5<5


By Belinda Castles
Research and Testing Writer




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