Lunchbox Comparison

A few months back I did a Facebook post on the subject of school lunch boxes which drew a large number of comments. I posted the lunchbox on the right as an example of what as what I have see as typical of many children’s lunch boxes these days. Now of course a lot of children have less highly processed packaged products in their lunch boxes but then on the other hand in respect of this very photo I received multiple messages confirming that this would be considered a healthier than average lunchbox.

Now, before you say it – yes I am cognisant that budgets and knowledge play a big part in what we eat and feed our children. So not everyone has the same opportunities. But there are a couple of points to be made here. First my experience is that all things taken into consideration real food is more cost effective than processed foods. Second, even just flat considering the prices of the foods then still real food can come out the winner cost wise. Doing so does take time though and knowledge is key.

One thing that stuck me with comments to the earlier Facebook posts is that many parents feel that they need to have at least ONE packet in the lunchbox. Often times for the older children this is as a result of satisfying peer pressure but I also got the clear impression that for many it’s seen (or referenced at least) as the “treat” part of the lunchbox.  I know this is tricky because I fell into this trap too in the past. But one thing that I try to do (and would encourage you to do too) is to reframe how you discuss foods with your children:  Why not think of the fruit, a piece of protein, an olive or cheese or a home-made muesli bar as the “treat”.  Why does the packet have to be the treat? [And why indeed does any part of the lunchbox need to be a “treat”. In many respects given the way things are at present it’s a privilege to eat real food. It shouldn’t be, but it is. There’s simply no need to in fact have any “treats” over an above the lunchbox as a whole. I’m working on this one too as although we don’t have packets I still tend to give Dom a “treat” – olives / dark chocolate / couple of pieces of dried banana etc!]

I had the privilege of hearing Wayne Dyer speak in Auckland on what turned out to be his very last speaking engagement. One of the things that resonated with me most clearly were his oft quoted words:

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”



Many would consider this chicken sandwich to be healthy. But you need to look at the details…

So I’ve set out below the ingredients of the lunchbox starting with the typical “healthy wholegrain” sandwich. Note – I’m not saying that all these things are inherently bad in sense of being toxic. (I just personally believe these are not desirable ingredients – particularly the vegetable oils, sugar and additives as highlighted – because they can cause inflammation in our bodies.)

The point of listing out the ingredients is because I’m asking is for you to change the way you look at these packaged products and actually LOOK at the ingredients. Not just glance at them when you pick up the packet.  Not just a quick read the brightly coloured shiny outside packaging extolling the product’s virtues. Not the blurb from their marketing departments about how perfect these “yummy little bars” are, made “the perfect size to fit into little hands” and “great source of fibre” made of “the finest ingredients”, “the perfect snack to have on imaginative adventures” and “97% fat free”.  No not that. I’m asking you to actually look at the ingredients to see past the marketing hype.

And when you do that, that is when the magic can happen – that lightbulb moment…when you suddenly SEE the products. Because…when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

So here goes – a day in the food life of a typical pre-schooler food wise:


1. “A piece of fruit and a “healthy” whole grains snack bar looks like a great morning tea…

  • Kiwifruit

Ingredients Kiwifruit.

Additives = 0.

Sugar = 10g (not suggesting this is “bad” but just pointing out this is sugar (and fibre) so needs to be taken into account)

  • Oaty Slice (Mother Earth)= 29.2% Sugar

Wholegrain Oats (28%), Butter (Cream, Milk, Water, Salt), Sugar, Yoghurt Chocolate Pieces (Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Milk Solids, Dried Yoghurt(6%), Emulsifiers (Soy Lecithin, 476), Invert Sugar, Wheat Flour, Desiccated Coconut (Coconut, Preservative (Sulphur Dioxide 220)) Strawberry Pieces (6%)(Strawberry Puree 24%, Apple Puree, Pear Puree, Plum Puree) Invert Sugar, Sugar, Humectant (Glycerol), Wheat Fibre, Gelling Agent (Pectin), Flavour, Acidity Regulators (Malic Acid 296, Citric Acid 330), Colour (Elderberry), Whole Milk Powder, Whole Egg Powder, Raising Agents, (450, 500), Natural Flavour.

Sugar 11.7gms / 29.2%

Additives = 13 different additives in the bar.

Total additives morning tea = 13

Total sugar = 21.7 grams sugar = 5 1/2 teaspoons


2.”Healthy Whole Grain Sandwich”…

  • The Sandwich:

Molenberg Original Bread

Wheat Flour, Water, Mixed Grains (23%) (Wheat, Rhy), Oat Bran (3%), Yeast, Wheat Gluten, Iodised Salt, Canola Oil, Soy Flour, Emulsifiers (471, 481), Acidity Regulators (263, 330).

Roast Chicken (Hellers)

Chicken (70%),Water, Acidity Regulator 325, 262, Modified Starch (1442), Salt, Soy Protein, Hydrolysed Vegetable Thickerner (407), Mineral Salt (451, 450), Yeast Extract, Sugar, Dehydrated Vegetable (Onion, Garlic) Preservative 223 (Sulphite), Spice Extracts, Flavours.


Vegetable Oils,Water, Phystosterol Esters (8% Plant Sterols), Salt, Milk Solids, Emulsifiers (Soy Lecithin 471) Preservative (202), Food Acid (Lactic Acid), Flavours, Vitamins A & D, Colour (B-Carotene).

Heinz Lite Mayonnaise

Canola Oil (Protected with Antioxidant 307b), White Vinegar, Water, Egg (8%), Sugar, Maize Thickener (1442), Lemon Juice, Mustard, Salt, Stabilizers (412, 415), Soy, Preservative (202), Antioxidant 385.

Additives in sandwich = 37 added [being those items present in addition to what is required to create the product named]

Sugar = 1gm in chicken + 2 gms in mayo = 3 gms = 3/4 tsp sugar

Additives in lunchboxes

What’s really in that sandwich.

4. The “dairy is good for your bones” Cheese Slice:

Tasty Flavoured Processed Cheese Slice: Cheese (Minimum 60%)(Milk, Salt, Culture, Vegetarian Calves Rennet) Water, Milk Solids, Emulsifiers (331, 339), Salt, Preservative (200), Colour (160b).

The “No artificial colours or flavours” juice:

Fruit Shoot Juice: Water, 25% Reconstituted Apple Juice, Sugar, Malic Acid 296, Natural Flavour, Colour (Caramel 150a), Preservative (202), Antioxidant (Asorbic Acid) Acidity Regulator (Sodium Citrate).

Sugar = 20 gms = 5 tsp sugar

Additives = 12


5. “The “it’s just a little treat” treat…”

  • 1 x Cookie Bear Hundreds & Thousands Biscuit

Wheat Flour, Icing (Sugar, Vegetable Fat (Emulsifiers (492, Soy Lecithin), Acidity Regulator (330), Milk Solids, Emulsifier (Soy Lecithin), Natural Colour (120), Natural Vanilla Flavour, Sugar, Vegetable Fat (Antioxidant 307b), Invert Syrup, Whey Powder, Salt, Raising Agents (450,500), Flavours, Colours (160b, 124, 110, 122, 133, 142, 100).

Sugar =  3.6 gms

Additives = 23 separately added & 21 different additives in the biscuit.


The “you need to eat enough calcium” ” it makes your bones strong” yoghurt & cheese…

Le Snak French Onion

Cheese Spread (Cheddar Cheese (49%), Water, Butter, Milk Solids, Mineral Salts, (170, 339, 452), Natural Flavour, Preservative (Milk) 234, Crispbread (Wholemal Wheat Flour, Wheat Flour, Malt Extract (Barley), Vegetable Oil (Emulsifier 332, Soy) Antioxidant (307), Sugar, Wheatgerm, Salt, Milk Powder, Poppy Seeds, Raising Agents (500, 503).

Meadow Fresh Yoghurt (Thomas)

Low Fat Milk Solids, Thickeners (1442, 407), Sugar, Fructose, Mineral (Calcium), Colours (150d, 120), Flavour, Cultured Milk Solids, Emulsifier 339, Vitamins A & D.

Sugar 13.3, 10.6%

Afternoon Tea:

Sugar = 14.7 gms = 3 3/4 tsp sugar

Additives = 24 and 23 different.

Total Sugar and Additives in this average lunchbox:

Sugar = 63 grams = 15 3/4 tsp

Additives = 93 additives (in sense of things added) to the various products

Total different additives in lunch box (so when counting an additive only once even if it appears multiple times in the different foods) = 77 by my count.

(NOTE: Maths is not my strong point and I may have this not exactly right. Feel free to have a go adding the additives up yourself! But you can get the general idea. Considering that some of these additives have been identified as at least being “associated” with a range of poor health outcomes (and some of them banned in Europe) then to my mind whether there are 10 or 100 additives it’s all too much.)store-bought-bars

More typical additions to lunch boxes. All are highly processed with vegetable oils and too much sugar.

Fruitsies Strawberry Vanilla = 44% Sugar

Cereals (28%) Wheat Flour, Wheat Fibre, Fruit (16%) (Apple Puree Concentrate, Strawberry Puree 3%), Blackcurrant Juice Concentrate), Invert Sugar, Brown Sugar, Canola Oil, Sugar, Humectant (Glycerol). Modified Starch (1442), Inulin, Polydextrose, Egg Powder, Raising Agents (500, 541, 341) Emulsifiers (471, 472), Vegetable Gums (Locust Bean, Xanthan), Flavour, Gelling Agent (Pectin), Preservatives 282, 202, 263. Firming Agent (Calcium Lactate), Salt.

Sugar 8.8gms / 44%


Tasti Milkies “There’s not much to add and we think that’s a good thing.” Umm – maybe not.



Tastie Milkies Choc Vanilla Bars – seem popular.  Not as high sugar as some – but make up for it with other additions…


supermarket muesli bars

Possibly the worst part of the supermarket for children…