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Lunchbox snacks

The supermarket shelves are full of convenience snacks that you can pop in the kids’ lunchbox. They might tick the cool box but do they pass the nutrition test too? We bought 44 products to find out.

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Our survey

Eating healthy food helps children concentrate and learn, so a nutritious lunchbox is important. We were looking for snacks that weren’t too high in energy and were low in fat, saturated fat, sugar and sodium.

Our survey doesn’t cover the whole market – we didn’t include muesli bars or yoghurts – but you can use our criteria to compare these products in the supermarket. (Muesli bars are often high in sugar and fat so aren’t for eating every day.)

We also didn’t include drinks because water is the best choice. 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 percent fruit content, so they’re often little more than sugar and water.

We bought 44 products that are in packaged single-serve portions ideal for popping in a lunchbox. We've used green, orange and red "traffic light" symbols to show the fat, saturated fat, sugar and sodium in the products (see our Product comparison table below). If you see a red light, you know the food is high in something you may be trying to cut down on. Green means the food has low amounts of it; orange fits somewhere in between.

What we found

Energy

We were looking for lunchbox fillers with less than 600 kilojoules per serve. That’s about the equivalent of a banana – although a banana will fill your kids up a lot more than other products and give them extra fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Most of the products in our survey meet our energy criteria only because they’re small. So don’t be tempted to put 2 in every lunchbox.

Fat and saturated fat

Biscuits, chips and some crackers were too high in fat and saturated fat. Better options include rice crackers and popcorn (although the buttery variety of popcorn in our survey was too high in saturated fat).

The cheese products were also high in fat and saturated fat. But they provide calcium, so they can be eaten more regularly.

Sugar

Sugar contains energy but very few nutrients. It also contributes to tooth decay. All the bars and most of the fruit products get a red light for sugar.

In some cases the sugar comes from real fruit (not fruit juice) – so they’ll have extra fibre, vitamins and minerals. We’ve noted in our comparison table which products have fruit as their first ingredient.

However, some fruit products are topped up with sugar and its many aliases (such as sucrose, glucose and honey). Bluebird Real Fruit Bars contain a 32 percent fruit mix that’s topped up with icing sugar and glucose. Home Brand’s Apple Oven Baked Fruit Bar’s apple filling contains sugar. So you still need to check the ingredients list.

Be sceptical about fruit products parading as healthier choices. Nice & Natural Fruit Crocs and licensed Iddy Biddy Fruity Bits all claim to be made with 65 percent fruit juice but they’re really just glorified lollies and aren’t a substitute for juice or a piece of fruit in your child’s lunchbox.

Sodium

Chips, crackers and cheese products are generally higher in sodium.

Fibre

We didn’t look at this because many manufacturers didn’t list it (they aren’t legally required to unless they’re making a claim about fibre). Foods such as wholegrain bread, fruit and vegetables have fibre, so make sure the lunchbox includes these.

Misleading “daily intake” labels

Many products in our survey had “%DI” front-of-pack labelling, where the information is expressed as a percentage of “recommended daily intakes”. We think this is misleading: the daily intakes are based on an average adult diet of 8700kJ but these products are intended for children. What’s more, you need a good knowledge of nutrition to work out how they might apply to kids.

Convenience cash cow

In some cases you’re paying for the convenience of single-serve portions. We paid $1.22 for a 120g pottle of Wattie’s Go Fruity Fruit ’n Juice. But if you put canned fruit in a leak-proof container you’ll only pay around $0.70. The same goes for crackers. It’s often cheaper to buy a large packet of crackers and put a few in a lunchbox rather than buying individual packets.

Products compared

Bars

Products[sort;desc]Price per serve ($)[sort;asc]Energy (kJ/serve)[sort;asc]Fat (g)Fat (g)[sort;asc;hidden]Saturated fat (g)Saturated fat (g)[sort;asc;hidden]Sugar (g)Sugar (g)[sort;asc;hidden]Sodium (mg)Sodium (mg)[sort;asc;hidden]
Bluebird Real Fruit Bars Strawberry (20g)0.54314Orange 3.83.8Orange 2.92.9Red 45.4 A45.4 Green 5050
Home Brand Apple Oven Baked Fruit Bars (37g)0.46503Green 1.51.5Green 0.50.5Red 32.632.6Orange 175175
Kellogg's LCMs Choc Chip (22g)0.63380Orange 11.111.1Red 5.55.5Red 31.431.4Orange 315315
Kellogg's LCMs Kaleidos (22g)0.50380Orange 9.79.7Orange 4.34.3Red 34.534.5Orange 230230
Kellogg's LCMs Split Stix Chocolatey (23g)0.63410Orange 12.012Red 8.08Red 35.635.6Orange 230230
Mother Earth Fruit Sticks Apple (19g)0.37253Green 2.82.8Orange 1.61.6Red 37.737.7Orange 270270
Mother Earth Pingos Chocolate Flavour (17g)0.44263Orange 8.38.3Orange 4.54.5Red 29.829.8Orange 199199
Oki-Doki Disco Bits Bars (27g)0.50517Red 19.319.3Red 10.610.6Red 42.442.4Green 100100
Pams Blueberry & Strawberry Tandem Cereal Bars (40g)0.48552Green 2.62.6Green 1.21.2Red 33.9 A33.9Orange 268268
Tasti Fruitsies Apple Vanilla (20g)0.43294Orange 7.07.0Green 1.01.0Red 3636.0Orange 240240
A = first ingredient comes from fruit (not fruit juice).

Biscuits

Products[sort;desc]Price per serve ($)[sort;asc]Energy (kJ/serve)[sort;asc]Fat (g)Fat (g)[sort;asc;hidden]Saturated fat (g)Saturated fat (g)[sort;asc;hidden]Sugar (g)Sugar (g)[sort;asc;hidden]Sodium (mg)Sodium (mg)[sort;asc;hidden]
Arnott's Tiny Teddy Chocolate (25g)0.45468Orange 13.113.1Red 6.36.3Red 26.126.1Orange 335335
Cookie Time The Original Chocolate Chunk Cookie (25g)0.67493Red 21.421.4Red 13.713.7Red 38.838.8Orange 347347
Mr Munchies My Little Pony Golden Cookies (25g)0.40500Red 19.419.4Red 8.18.1Red 25.325.3Orange 505505
Mr Munchies Scooby-Doo Golden Cookies (25g)0.40500Red 19.419.4Red 8.18.1Red 25.325.3Orange 505505
Sponge Bob Square Pants Binky Bites Vanilla Flavoured (16g)0.38333Red 20.320.3Red 11.111.1Red 32.232.2Orange 250250

Chips and crackers

Products[sort;default]Price per serve ($)[sort;asc]Energy (kj/serve)[sort;asc]Fat (g)Fat (g)[sort;asc;hidden]Saturated fat (g)Saturated fat (g)[sort;asc;hidden]Sugar (g)Sugar (g)[sort;asc;hidden]Sodium (mg)Sodium (mg)[sort;asc;hidden]
Abe's Bagel Bites Pizza (15g)0.60260Orange 12.312.3Green 1.11.1Orange 8.98.9Red 739739
Arnott's Shapes Cheddar Flavoured Biscuits (25g)0.58500Red 21.521.5Red 7.27.2Green 1.61.6Red 764764
Bluebird Chicken Flavoured Original Cut Chips (18g)0.45395Red 32.532.5Red 15.215.2Green 1.71.7Red 799799
Eta Monster Munch Cheesy Bacon (14g)0.35330Red 38.638.6Red 1818Orange 6.26.2Red 11001100
Healtheries Kidscare Potato Stix Salt & Vinegar (20g)0.54358Orange 13.313.3Red 1.21.2Green <11Red 656656
Healtheries Kidscare Rice Rounds Cheese & Bacon (25g)0.54411Orange 6.86.8Orange 3.13.1Green <11Orange 345345
Healtheries Kidscare Rice Wheels Cheese (18g)0.43329Orange 9.99.9Orange 1.61.6Green 3.33.3Red 705705
Le Snak Cheese Dip with Crispbread (22g)0.73350Red 22.922.9Red 13.413.4Orange 6.36.3Orange 600600
Mr Munchies The Simpsons Rice Snacks Tasty BBQ Flavour (15g)0.50260Orange 9.89.8Orange 22Green <11Orange 380380
Pams Cheesy Twists (14g)0.33344Red 41.841.8Red 19.619.6Green 33Red 740740
Pams Mini Rice Crackers Original(15g)0.21243Orange 3.83.8Orange 1.71.7Green <11Red 726726
Peckish Rice Crackers Original Flavour (20g)0.47373Orange 9.89.8Green 1.51.5Green <11Orange 340340
Pop 'n' Good Popcorn Light & Buttery Popcorn (12g)0.58232Orange 17.317.3Red 77Green <11Orange 260260

In the chiller

ProductsPrice per serve ($)[sort;asc]Energy (kj/serve)[sort;asc]Fat (g)Fat (g)[sort;asc;hidden]Saturated fat (g)Saturated fat (g)[sort;asc;hidden]Sugar (g)Sugar (g)[sort;asc;hidden]Sodium (mg)Sodium (mg)[sort;asc;hidden]
Chesdale Edam Processed Cheese Slices (20.8g)0.37271Red 24.824.8Red 17.217.2Green 3.23.2Red 11901190
Little Rippers Salami Sticks Mild Flavour (18g)1.08240Red 25.025.0Red 9.19.1Green 1.91.9Red 17201720
Mainland Tasty Cheese and Crackers (50g)2.29885Red 28.628.6Red 16.416.4Green 2.82.8Red 820820
Signature Range Tasty Flavoured Processed Cheese (21g)0.35288Red 27.4Red 18.918.9Green 2.22.2Red 12701270
The Laughing Cow Cheez Dippers (35g)1.00431Orange 16.516.5Red 9.59.5Green 5.05.0Red 640640

Fruit products

ProductsPrice per serve ($)[sort;asc]Energy (kj/serve)[sort;asc]Fat (g)Fat (g)[sort;asc;hidden]Saturated fat (g)Saturated fat (g)[sort;asc;hidden]Sugar (g)Sugar (g)[sort;asc;hidden]Sodium (mg)Sodium (mg)[sort;asc;hidden]
Florida's Natural Au'some Fruit Nuggets Berrylicious Mix (17g)0.52218Green <11Green <1<1Red 58.158.1Green 6363
Fresh Life Energise Mix (40g)0.80789Red 28.628.6Orange 3.33.3Red 32.932.9Green 1919
Goulburn Valley Diced Fruit Salad (140g)1.46348Green 0.10.1Green <0.1<0.1Orange 11.3 A11.3Green 33
Hello Kitty Iddy Biddy Fruity Bits(20g)0.37276Green 1.31.3Green <0.1<0.1Red 57.057.0Green 4040
Kiwigarden Banana & Honey Yoghurt Drops (9g)1.20152Orange 8.78.7Orange 4.54.5Red 56.856.8Orange 142142
Kiwigarden Mixed Berry Yoghurt Drops (9g)1.20153Orange 12.412.4Red 6.46.4Red 63.163.1Orange 179179
Nice & Natural Fruit Crocs (17g)0.46237Green 0.20.2Green 0.20.2Red 60.360.3Green 5050
Sponge Bob Squarepants Iddy Biddy Fruity Bits (20g)0.37276Green 1.31.3Green <0.1<0.1Red 57.057.0Green 4040
The Simpsons Fruit Tails (20g)0.37276Green 1.31.3Green <0.1<0.1Red 57.057.0Green 4040
Wattie's Fruit Squirtz Apple & Strawberry Puree (120g)1.00340Green 0.30.3Green 0.10.1Orange 13.4 A13.4Green 55
Wattie's Go Fruity Fruit 'n Juice (120g)1.22265Green 0.30.3Green 00Orange 10.9 A10.9Green 22

A = first ingredient comes from fruit (not fruit juice).

Guide to the tables

Price is the price we paid per serve. Nutrition (per 100g) is from label information and was assessed using "traffic light" criteria developed by UK health agencies.

Total fat (g/100g): Green ≤3 Orange 3.1-17.5 Red >17.5
Saturated fat (g/100g): Green ≤1.5 Orange 1.6-5.0 Red >5
Sugar (g/100g): Green ≤5 Orange 5.1-22.5 Red >22.5
Sodium(g/100g): Green ≤120 Orange 121-600 Red >600

Healthy lunchbox tips

New Zealand and Australian registered dietitian Gemma Dunkley gives these tips for a healthy lunchbox.

  • The essential ingredients are 2 serves of wholegrain breads or cereals; ½ a serve of protein; 1 serve of salad or vegetables; 1 serve of low-fat dairy; and snacks based on fruit, vegetables and dairy.
  • Involve your children in choosing foods and making lunches. This makes it easier for shopping – and they’ll also eat and enjoy the food.
  • Concentrate on savoury fillings for sandwiches: cold meat, cheese, peanut butter, hummus, grated carrot, lettuce and salad. Try to keep sweet spreads like honey and jam to no more than once a week. Get creative with alternatives to sandwiches: try pita bread, bagels, tortilla wraps.
  • Keep food items small and manageable. Bite-sized sandwiches and muffins, fruit cut into pieces, vegetable sticks and cherry tomatoes are more likely to be eaten than larger food items.
  • Don’t forget a drink. Kids need plenty of fluids to keep them well hydrated. Water is the best choice – and in summer you can also freeze the water bottle before putting it into the lunchbox, to help keep the food fresh.

Food-safe lunchbox

Food-poisoning bugs can grow quickly in lunchboxes, especially in summer when they sit around for several hours before the food is eaten. Follow these tips to keep lunchboxes safe.

  • Wash your hands before making lunches.
  • Use an insulated lunchbox – or freeze the drink bottles overnight so they can be used as mini freezer-packs.
  • Pack perishable foods like cold meats or egg sandwiches between cold items such as yoghurt.
  • Throw out any perishable food left over at the end of the school day.
  • Clean lunchboxes with hot soapy water – and dry them thoroughly.
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