Four in five elementary students eat a packed lunch every day, which costs parents about $ 20 per week.
That’s almost 10 million lunch boxes across Australia every week.
But nine in ten of them contain â€œoptional foodsâ€ such as cakes, crisps, muesli bars, and juices.
These foods are not necessary for a healthy diet and are often high in saturated fat, sugar and salt, and low in fiber.
About 40 percent of the energy in an average lunch box comes from these discretionary foods.
Busy parents need to find substitutes for these optional foods, which are not only healthy, but also easy, cheap and tasty.
Our research shows that parents can make healthier exchanges without costing them more.
What children should eat
Healthy lunch boxes can play a big role in positively influencing student behavior in class, academic achievement, health and weight.
In general, children should have a variety of foods from the five main food groups: Vegetables and legumes; fruit; grain foods (mostly whole grains and those high in fiber); lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds; milk, yogurt and cheese (or substitutes).
Depending on their age and gender, children should consume between 4,500 and 7,000 kilojoules per day.
But it is also important where they get this energy from. It is recommended that children limit their intake of saturated fat, salt and added sugar.
A healthy lunch box doesn’t have to be fancy, expensive, or time-consuming.
A healthy recess would mean, for example, that children eat a serving of fruit or vegetables, yogurt and some rice crackers.
At lunch, children could eat a simple sandwich, wrap or roll, or leftovers made from ingredients from the basic food group such as whole grain pasta loaded with vegetables.
How to replace junk food with healthy foods
Parents have told us they want convenient, inexpensive food to take out that their kids want to eat.
So we have developed a healthy lunchbox program called SWAP IT.
In this program, we come up with some simple ideas for replacing unhealthy foods kids might like with healthier foods that are comparable in cost, taste, texture, and preparation time.
For example, you can exchange
- Shapes for rice crackers. This means 159 kJ less, 77% less saturated fat and 39% less sodium
- Popcorn chips. That’s 176 kJ less, 57 percent less saturated fat, 56 percent less sodium
- The pike cake means 464 kJ less and 63% less sugar.
Perhaps one of the simplest things you can do is try to make sure your kids are sticking to clean drinking water.
Our research found that SWAP IT helped parents and students reduce energy from discretionary foods by 600 kJ per week.
Research suggests that a small reduction of 600kJ per week is enough to have a significant impact on the obesity levels of the population.
It can be deployed in schools
Parents are sometimes blamed for unhealthy lunch boxes.
But a barrage of unhealthy foods is presented to parents and children, often disguised as healthy choices.
Parents and kids see up to 10 junk food ads per hour. And more than half of parents say their child’s â€œbullying powerâ€ influences what they put in their lunchbox.
Parents told us they wanted information that was easy to access when they were at the supermarket. So we asked parents to register for SWAP IT through their school‘s usual communication app.
About two-thirds of primary schools used such apps.
We invited parents to exchange ideas each week by sending push notifications to their phones. We found that 84% of parents liked messages sent directly to their phone.
Research shows that four in five elementary school principals agree that the role of the school is to help parents prepare healthy lunch boxes.
We found that SWAP IT could be deployed in schools through their communications applications at a cost of less than $ 1,800 per school.
Investing in promoting healthy eating pays off because fewer people end up in the hospital and productivity is improved.
Schools across Australia can express their interest in the SWAP computer program. In the future, schools may choose to enroll in SWAP IT, similar to enrolling in other programs such as Crunch & Sip.
Matthew Mclaughlin, PhD candidate, Faculty of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle; Alison Brown, PhD candidate, University of Newcastle; Jannah Jones, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Newcastle; Luke Wolfenden, Professor (Public Health), University of Newcastle, and Rachel Sutherland, joint speaker, University of Newcastle
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.