Children's packed lunches under fire for high sugar content

Chocolate biscuits, crisps and sugary drinks continue to be staples in children’s lunchboxes, according to new research from the Children’s Food Trust.

It found that while these types of foods are now banned in school canteens due to their high sugar content they continue to feature in packed lunches because children ask for them and like the taste.

The study was conducted by Kantar Worldpanel and collected data from 365.2 million packed lunches made for children aged under 16 between February 2015 to February 2016.

The results list the top 20 most popular lunchbox items; with the top five being bread, margarine, fruit, cooked meat and cheese.


Juice or squash comes in at number six, with the study finding that 18 per cent of packed lunches contained ‘one-shot’ fruit drinks, which give a six-year-old their entire recommended daily intake of sugars (five sugar cubes) in one go.

Biscuits and crisps also featured in 90.4m and 68.3m lunches respectively.


The charity is now calling for schools to have a lunch box policy to help parents and provide a consistent message for children.

It also highlighted the continued delay on the childhood obesity strategy., which is now expected in the Autumn.

Children’s Food Trust CEO Linda Cregan said, ‘This is so tough for parents. Families often choose packed lunches as simple reassurance that their children will eat something during the school day or on a day out – fussy eating is a huge worry for so many mums and dads.

‘But when it’s food like crisps, chocolate biscuits and sugary carton drinks that kids are asking for in their lunchboxes, or eating because they say they like those foods, we’ve got a problem – they’re filling up on empty calories which won’t leave kids feeling at their best.

‘This is why the forthcoming childhood obesity strategy must set out what more we can do to help parents and schools with this. Putting a packed lunch policy in place can be tough, but every school allowing packed lunches needs one if we’re going to make life easier for parents and give children a consistent message.

‘School lunches must continue to lead the way – all of us need to be eating fewer biscuits and cakes and we should start to model that in schools, perhaps by offering only a portion of fresh fruit or yoghurt for dessert on at least a few days a week.’

‘And for parents, it’s never been more difficult to get children to eat well in our society, which has made it easiest and cheapest to choose less healthy options during the weekly shop – especially when your child is asking for specific products. The childhood obesity strategy is government’s golden opportunity to lay out practical solutions on both this and many other negative influences on children’s diet.’

A sample lunch packed lunch from the survey

  • Cathedral City cheese sandwich with white bread and margarine (made with 22.5g of cheese and 10g margarine)
  • 24g bag of Hula Hoops
  • 100g banana
  • 33g Mr Kipling Angel Slice
  • 200ml Capri Sun Fruit Drink

Assuming this sample lunch should provide around 30 per cent of daily intake, this packed lunch delivers more than five times (514 per cent) the amount of free sugars a seven- to ten-year-old should have at lunchtime, and more than the recommended energy (143 per cent), saturated fat (139 per cent) and salt (114 per cent).

© MA Education 2020. Published by MA Education Limited, St Jude's Church, Dulwich Road, Herne Hill, London SE24 0PB, a company registered in England and Wales no. 04002826. MA Education is part of the Mark Allen Group. – All Rights Reserved