Kids' lunch snacks review

You want healthy, your kids want cool for school.
 
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  • Updated:1 Jan 2005
 

03.Snack attack

Snacks are just as important as main meals to keep children going –– the key is to provide ones that are nutritious as well as tasty and appealing. While the taste side of it can be left up to the kids, the nutrition factor is harder to judge. And with the masses of convenient lunchbox snacks on the market –– and the associated pestering from your kids to have the latest fad: a cheese ‘dipper’ or a fruit ‘strap’, perhaps –– it’s easy to lose track of what’s good and what’s not.

We looked at around 100 snacks to see how they measured up, and found 25 that met all our nutrition criteria (see the table for details). Here’s how we decided which snacks are suitable to eat more often, and those that are best kept as treats:

Energy

Kids need energy from food to last through the day, and ideally a snack will provide enough energy to keep them going and be nutritious as well. However, too much energy combined with not enough exercise can lead to excessive weight gain.

  • We looked for lunchbox snacks with less than 600 kilojoules per serve — about the equivalent of a banana.
  • Some snacks, particularly biscuits and chips, only meet our energy criteria because they’re small servings, so don’t be tempted to put more than one in.

Saturated fat

Too much saturated fat in the diet is associated with an increase in coronary heart disease, and even kids need to limit the amount they eat. Fatty snacks are also energy-dense and so can contribute to weight gain.

  • Watch out for biscuits –– some, like BISC & BISCUITS Milky Way and PARADISE Kidz Choc Pinkies, contain more saturated fat than chips.
  • A lot of muesli and cereal bars are stuck together with fats and sugars, so pick carefully.
  • Many of the cheese snacks have too much saturated fat to meet our lunchbox snack criteria. But some are OK and they can also provide valuable nutrients like calcium and protein. For a good source of calcium, check the labels for ones with at least 100 mg calcium per 100 g.

Sugar

Foods high in added sugar often have minimal nutritional value, so don’t make very good everyday lunchbox snacks. And if they stick to kids’ teeth they can encourage decay, so are best avoided.

  • Lollies are the worst, but fruit straps can be particularly sticky, and fruit bars in general were the most sugary snacks we looked at. The majority were around 65–75% sugar –– that’s about three teaspoons (15 g) of sugar in each little 20 g bar. While fruit sugars contribute to this total, most are only around 25% fruit, so added sugar makes up the bulk.

Sodium

Too much sodium (generally from salt) is associated with raised blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. So it’s important not to have too much, whatever your age.

  • Snack combinations of biscuits with dip or spread are often very salty. ARNOTT’S Shapes Big Dippers Tasty Cheddar, for example, contains close to a quarter of the maximum recommended daily intake of sodium for 8–15-year-olds in a single 55 g serve.
  • Chips can be high in sodium too, so check the labels before you buy.

Fibre: We didn’t include fibre in our ratings, even though it’s an important nutrient for children. This is partly because manufacturers aren’t required to provide this information on nutrition information panels, so many products don’t give this detail. But it’s also because it’s something other lunchbox items such as fruit, vegies and wholegrain bread provide if you include them.

It’s also good to vary snacks so you have a balance of nutrients. For example, try not to include sugary snacks very often. Likewise if you’re packing a sandwich with a salty filling like VEGEMITE, avoid tipping the scales by adding a salty snack to the lunchbox as well.

Cost of convenience

Lunchbox snacks from the supermarket are usually available in multi-packs and are relatively cheap –– you can get most snacks for under $1 a serving. Even so, in most cases you’ll be paying extra for the convenience of individually wrapped portions, rather than for a novel product or any additional nutrition benefits. Examples:

  • A multipack of snack-size GOULBURN VALLEY Fruit Paradise Two Fruits costs $5.57, or 93 cents for a 140 g tub. In comparison, an 825 g can of Two Fruits costs $2.84, only 48 cents for a 140 g portion.
  • Instead of a 25 g pack of ARNOTT’S Cheese & Bacon Shapes, you could buy a 200 g box and send the same portion off to school in a reusable container for three quarters of the price.

These savings can add up over time, so as long as you can convince your child not to hanker for the funky packaging, it can be worth forgoing the convenience.

 

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