A Bay of Plenty Times Weekend survey of 12 lunchboxes at a Tauranga primary school revealed the healthy eating message appeared to be getting through.
A Tauranga dietitian has welcomed Disney's plan to ban junk food advertising and says this country should follow suit in the battle against obesity.
Disney, backed by US First Lady Michelle Obama, has announced it will ban all junk food advertising on its television channels, radio stations and websites from 2015.
The plan will force food and drink advertisers on its network to meet federally approved nutrition standards.
Rachel Scrivin, who established FoodFX in the Bay, said we should be doing more in this country.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />
"In New Zealand we have been trying to do a similar thing for a few years now but companies always seem to find ways around it," she told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend.
"Often it will be on the back of advertising toys. But the kids know it's not about the toys, it's about the food. It's fantastic that Disney is taking a stand on banning all junk food advertising on all its media. It will hopefully lead the way to our country as well."
Mrs Scrivin said there was more that many school canteens, which were still routinely offering sausage rolls and pizza as staples, could do to help children make healthier choices.
However, the mother of three young boys said the situation was getting better.
"Things are improving. I've noticed there are not so many food adverts during the morning now but there is in the afternoon," she said. "We seem to be getting on board with what other countries are doing but there is still some way to go.
"We have made some inroads into tackling obesity in children in New Zealand, with some 2008 Food and Beverage guidelines for schools to follow, as well as many catering guidelines. The National Heart Foundation has since collaborated to implement this in schools."
Sally Hughes, manager of the FBCS (Food and Beverage Classification System) at the National Heart Foundation, oversees the Fuelled4Life scheme.
The scheme registers companies and their products to provide a healthy eating guide for educational establishments and individuals. It currently has 25 companies and more than 400 healthy products registered.
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Ms Hughes said Fuelled4Life had been hugely successful across the Bay of Plenty, with schools in Tauranga, Matata, Opotiki, Ruatoki, Te Puke, Whakatane, Edgcumbe and Murupara taking part. She said more than 20 schools and early childhood education centres (ECEs) in the region had joined in the past two months.
"It's all about making the healthy choice the easy choice," she said.
"Everybody knows that milk is healthier than a fizzy drink, but it's when you get to the mid-range products there can be confusion.
"If a parent is faced with an aisle full of yoghurts or muesli bars it's difficult to know what is a good choice. They haven't got the time to be looking at nutrients panels.
"And the same applies for those in charge of school canteens. If you choose a product from our guide it takes the guesswork out of it."
Ms Hughes said the 55 ECEs and 19 schools that had signed up to its health programmes in the Bay of Plenty proved the demand for information on healthier foods and eating was strong.
Schools in Tauranga and Mount Maunganui have also welcomed the news of Disney's junk food ban.
Mount Maunganui Primary School principal Mike Shennen called it a great idea and said his school had promoted healthy eating.
"In our latest newsletter we had a piece called 'Eat Your Fruit and Veggies for Educational Success'. That was based on a Canadian study which said children who ate fruit and vegetables were 60 per cent more successful in standard literacy tests."
Mr Shennen added that while his school encouraged parents to be vigilant in keeping an eye on what their children ate, he had sympathy for how hard that was.
"Parents only have so much energy to devote to things every day and TV advertising campaigns can often undermine the good work they are trying to do."
Mr Shennen acknowledged the importance of pushing the healthy eating message and said he would raise it at the next school principals' meeting.
Tauranga Primary School principal Jenny McNicol said her school had introduced a 10-minute "fruit break" into each day.
"We have a 10-minute fruit break at 11.50am, where we encourage the children to drink water and eat fruit. We also have a 20-minute break mid-morning when the children can eat and run around. We call them brain breaks."
Mrs McNicol, who oversees 420 pupils, said her school's approach was a gentle one.
"We don't allow the children fizzy drinks but we don't come down too heavily on them. We try to educate the parents as far as possible about healthy eating."
Graeme Lind, principal at Greenpark School, said his school had started daily runs for its students. Five to 8-year-olds, at the 790-pupil school run for seven minutes each day, and 9 to 11 year-olds run for 10 minutes.
"I totally support the ban on junk food advertising but I believe the choice of what children bring in their lunchboxes is a parental one.
"I don't believe in telling parents what they should be doing regarding eating. If you get into that area of people's lives, where do you stop?"
The results were:
75 per cent contained fruit and those that did had multiple pieces (most popular were apples, in 6, and mandarins, 5)
50 per cent contained rice crackers
A third contained yoghurts, and 75 per cent of those were fat free
Five out of 12 contained crisps, with two of those being low fat
Three contained chocolate biscuits and three more had cakes
50 per cent contained cereal/muesli bars
All but one contained a sandwich or a roll with most popular fillings including: vegemite, peanut butter and cheese
There was one pizza slice
Other healthy options included sunflower seeds, carrots and raisins while fruit tails, salami sticks, cheese dips and a sausage also appeared.