What kinds of food will you pack in your kids' or grandkids' school lunches when they head back to class next week?
A Rotorua Daily Post analysis has found a school lunch with so-called "healthy" foods such as orange juice, yoghurt and trail mix had more sugar than a school lunch with junk foods such as fizzy drink, a jam sandwich and chocolate bar.
The worst offender was a 350ml bottle of orange juice with 38g sugar, three grams less than a 355ml can of lemonade. But the other components all add up.
A tub of strawberry yoghurt had 15g sugar, while a multigrain cereal bar which claims, "No artificial colours or flavours," was more than a quarter sugar with 11.6g in a 40g bar.
Compare this with a jam sandwich on two slices of white bread (8.4g sugar, total), or one serving of a chocolate bar (8.4g sugar). A fruit, nut and chocolate mix, whose label says, "Black Box Gold," had 19g sugar per serving while a packet of potato chips had 0.2g.
That doesn't mean you should send your children to school with fizzy and chips.
New Zealand-registered nutritionist Tatjana Smolic of Rotorua-based Good Nutrition says both lunches are very poor food choices.
"While lunch two provides somewhat higher sugar content than lunch one [jam sandwich lunch], both contain free sugars well in excess of 10 per cent of total daily energy. And this is only a portion of total foods they will eat over the course of the day."
Ms Smolic says the World Health Organisation Guidelines for sugar intake for children and adults advise getting no more than 10 per cent of daily energy from free sugars (added to foods in form of fructose, glucose, sucrose, honey, concentrated fruit juices, dried fruit, syrups, and any other form of sugary concentrate). The nutritionist says, " ... there is growing evidence that children (and adults) consuming higher amounts of free sugars are likely to be heavier." Plus, she says higher sugar intake results in more tooth decay.
Food Solutions owner and New Zealand-registered dietitian and nutritionist Fiona Boyle says it's a mistake to focus on one component of food. "When it comes down to sugar, that's important, but so are things like protein, and neither of those lunches would be particularly satisfying, long-lasting or satiating."
The New Zealand Nutrition Foundation says the school environment provides an ideal setting for programmes to improve child health by encouraging daily moderate and vigorous physical activity and healthier eating patterns. The Foundation is running Project Energize in Waikato and Northland schools, where dietitians and "energizers" encourage development of positive habits. An earlier study by 5+ A Day found only one-third of Kiwis ate the recommended five or more pieces of fruit and vegetables a day.
Focus on Food business manager and New Zealand-registered dietitian Emma McMichael says while lunch two has redeeming qualities such as calcium and protein in the yoghurt and healthy fats in nuts, it still lacks fibre and is high in sugar. She says grain chips are low in nutrition and orange juice provides a lot of sugar and some vitamin C. "But the child would be better off to eat an orange as they will get more fibre from eating the fruit and less sugar overall when compared to drinking a glass of juice." As for the oaty slice, it's " ... really a calorie-loaded bar with sugar, fat and little fibre."
The dietitian says both options provide a lot of calories from sugar and fat. Overall fibre content is low. In addition, she says the lunches have a lot of salt, which can increase a child's desire to eat more. "It is best for kids to keep fluids to water and milk, and eat the fruit rather than drink the fruit juice."
Ms Boyle also says water is a far better drink choice, and including fewer packaged foods and more homemade items in school lunches will likely result in better nutrition. "To make a sandwich doesn't take very long. Instead of pureed fruit, use raw. Chop fresh vegetables. You need to be organised in the morning, or do it the night before."
Ms Smolic says healthier lunch alternatives include a mashed egg and cheese sandwich with two slices of whole grain/meal bread; seasonal fruit (ie, feijoas, apples); chopped vegetables sticks (ie, capsicum, carrot, celery, cucumber); a pottle of plain unsweetened yoghurt; mixed nuts and a bottle filled with water.