A few healthy changes can help stop childhood obesity in its tracks

Posted by / Wednesday 29 August 2018 / Parenting Tips Eating Health On A Budget

From recent research we carried out, we know that parents are feeling guilty about their kids lunchboxes. It can feel like loads of time, effort, and money to get the lunch right, but nutritionist Mari Clark is here to tell us that's not the case. Read her top tips and easy wins on getting the lunchbox right below. 

Mari headshot

As a nation we are in a frightening situation with childhood obesity. The latest Government statistics show one in three children in England are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school and reports show that obese children are more likely to be bullied.  

So if you're putting that little chocolate bar, or crisps, or that soft drink in the lunch box thinking a little bit won’t hurt, the truth is it doesOver time, all of these treats begin to add up and become a habit and, as we all know, habits are difficult to break. 

We know parents aren't sending their children to school with unhealthy lunchboxes on purpose. In part it comes down the pressure to pack a lunchbox that will come home empty at the end of the day, and it’s partly convenience for busy working mums and dads. But also some of the products made for lunches have small nutritional value, and that's not always easy to see.

Food labelling is confusing. Look at the packaging that contains pictures of fruit and happy children and cartoon characters and claims such as ‘this is one of your five a day’, ‘high in fibre’ and ‘vitamins’, when actually many are packed full of sugar, fat and salt. The cost is not just on our wallets but also to our health and the environment. 

Healthy eating does take some effort, after all, if it was easy, we would all be doing it all the time!

Breaking a habit is never easy but it is just that, a habit, so after a couple of weeks a new way of preparing and eating can become habit too.  

"Parents are not sending their children to school with unhealthy lunchboxes on purpose. It comes down the pressure to pack a lunchbox that will come home empty at the end of the day and it’s partly convenience for busy working mums and dads."


Some quick lunchbox hacks 

Try some of these steps to see if you can make, not only your child’s lunchbox, but your whole family’s diet healthier: 

  • If you can involve kids in buying and preparing their food, they’ll not only learn important life skills but will feel more empowered and will be more likely to eat the food. 
  • Ask your child to try one new thing a week and then get them involved in making it 
  • Can you make extra portions at dinner time? If you’re cooking pasta make a bigger portion and turn the leftovers into a pasta salad. 
  • Make and freeze a loafs worth of sandwiches. Remember to pre-portion them before they go into the freezer!
  • Freeze a drink an pop it in the lunchbox - it will act as an ice box for the rest of the lunch and keep it cool.
  • Have baskets in the fridge filled with healthy snacks that the kids can choose for their lunchbox. It makes them feel more in control, but all the snacks are healthy!

What should we put in the lunchbox, and how much?

Portion-wise we often mistake how much we should be eating.

If you have a sandwich with some good quality protein, a portion of fruit, veg and dairy then that’s enough. This could be a sandwich with a tiny amount of spread and ham, tuna, turkey, chicken, or egg with some added salad or a little pot of cherry tomatoes or chopped up cucumber on the side.

Or you could have hummus or bean dip with bread and some crunchy vegetables to dip in or a salad of pasta, couscous or potatoes along with some protein and vegetables. 

For dairy you could include a yogurt or rice pudding or custard – but look at the label and choose a lower sugar variety. Or even better choose some plain Greek yogurt with chopped up fruit to sweeten it up.

Finally a portion of fruit or berries - tinned is good if it’s in natural juice -or fresh or frozen to finish off the meal and then milk, water or diluted fruit juice to drink.

And you could freeze the water or the juice to keep the lunch box cool as well. 

Lunch ideas

We've gathered a weeks worth of packed lunches below, to help with packing the perfect lunch!



Mari Polonen is a Registered Public Health Nutritionist and was part of the team that developed the Early Years Eat Better, Start Better programme for Action for Children. 

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