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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With only 13 percent hazelnuts, the main ingredient is sugar. It’s also high in saturated fat.
With nearly 20 percent saturated fat and 1270mg of sodium per 100g this is the worst cheese option in our survey.
These sweet-like bars with added sugar are a poor substitute for a piece of fruit.
Although low in sugar, these salami sticks have a whopping 1720mg of sodium per 100g and high levels of saturated fat.
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.
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):
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.
|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[width=28%]||Price per serve ($)[width=8%]||Health Stars[width=8%]||Energy (kJ/serve)[width=8%]||Saturated fat (g/100g)[width=8%]||Saturated fat (g/serve)[width=8%]||Sugar (g/100g)[width=8%]||Sugar (tsps/serve)[width=8%]||Sodium (mg/100g)[width=8%]||Sodium (mg/serve)[width=8%]|
|Arnott's Fun Sticks Choc (18g)||0.50||1.5||355||7.9||1.4||33.6||1.5||240||43|
|Arnott's Minis Chocolate Chip Cookies (25g)||0.57||0.5||520||14.6||3.6||29.7||1.9||291||73|
|Arnott's Tiny Teddy Choc Chip (25g)||0.40||1.5||470||7.5||1.9||27.9||1.8||280||70|
|Arnott's Tiny Teddy Chocolate (25g)||0.40||2.0||460||6.5||1.6||25.3||1.6||298||75|
|Arnott's Tiny Teddy Honey (25g)||0.40||1.5||463||7.1||1.8||25.2||1.6||317||79|
|Cookie Time The Original Chocolate Chunk Rookie Cookie (25g)||0.68||nc||502||13.5||3.4||38.9||2.4||360||90|
|Global Brands Minees Sandwich Cookies (35g)||0.18||nc||702||9.2||3.2||36.9||3.2||181||63|
|Leda Dunk-ies (22.5g)||1.08||nc||460||10.8||2.4||34.9||2.0||39||9|
|Oreo Wafer Sticks Milk Chocolate (12.8g)||0.37||nc||280||15.8||2||40.2||1.3||138||18|
|Park Avenue Paw Patrol Character Cookies (20g)||0.45||nc||368||7.8||1.6||22.9||1.2||230||46|
|Nutella & Go (48g)||1.49||nc||1025||9.4||4.5||43.7||5.3||255||122|
|Chips & Crackers[width=28%]||Price per serve ($)[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|
|In The Chiller[width=28%]||Price per serve ($)[width=8%]||Health Stars[width=8%]||Energy (kJ/serve)[width=8%]||Saturated fat (g/100g)[width=8%]||Saturated fat (g/serve)[width=8%]||Sugar (g/100g)[width=8%]||Sugar (tsps/serve)[width=8%]||Sodium (mg/100g)[width=8%]||Sodium (mg/serve)[width=8%]|
|Anchor Uno Smooth Yoghurt Mixed Berry (100g)||1.59||3.0||350||2.2||2.2||7.3||1.8||41||41|
|Bega Stringers Orginal (20g)||0.75||nc||260||14.7||2.9||<1||<0.25||650||130|
|Chesdale Edam Processed Cheese Slices (20.8g)||0.28||nc||271||17.2||3.6||3.2||0.2||1190||250|
|Dairyworks Edam Natural Cheese Sticks (20g)||0.52||nc||292||16||3.2||<1||<0.25||708||142|
|Fresh 'n Fruity Boysenberry & Cream Yoghurt (150g)||1.79||nc||566||1.6||2.4||10.8||4.1||35||53|
|Home Brand Edam Cheese & Crackers (30g)||1.12||1.0||459||12.4||3.7||<1||<0.25||699||210|
|Little Rippers Minis Cheesy Flavour (10g)||0.50||nc||144||11.3||1.1||1.5||0.1||1500||150|
|Little Rippers Salami Sticks Mild Flavour (18g)||1.12||nc||240||9.1||1.6||1.9||0.1||1720||310|
|Mainland Tasty Cheese and Crackers (30g)||1.60||nc||531||16.4||4.9||2.8||0.2||820||246|
|Moogurt Berry Yoghurt Suckies (70g)||1.20||nc||287||1.6||1.1||11.8||2.1||68||47|
|Pams Tasty Cheese Slices (21g)||0.22||1.5||275||18.9||3.9||2.2||0.1||1270||265|
|The Collective Blueberry Suckie Spouches (100g)||1.63||nc||394||1.6||1.6||11.2||2.8||67||67|
|The Laughing Cow Cheese Spread (16g)||0.44||nc||181||15.5||2.5||6.5||0.3||650||104|
|The Laughing Cow Cheez Dippers (35g)||1.25||nc||418||9.5||3.3||4.5||0.4||650||228|
|Yoplait Petit Miam Blueberry Yoghurt (70g)||1.15||nc||215||1.5||1.1||7.7||1.4||48||34|
|Fruit & Nut Products[width=28%]||Price per serve ($)[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|
By Belinda Castles
Research and Testing Writer
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