The lunchbox dirty dozen

Creating healthy lunchboxes for your kids is an ongoing challenge. There’s so much advice around that it can be confusing to know what’s best.


It’s obvious that there are a lot of foods that need to be avoided. Unhealthy food can make your kids overweight, poorly behaved, wreck their concentration, ruin their teeth, set them on a path to chronic disease – and that’s just at recess!

This list contains the worst offenders: the ‘dirty dozen’ of school lunches.

If you can at least avoid these, you’ll be well on the way to ensuring your kids spend their school days healthy, happy and ready to learn.


1. Juice  

Those juice boxes or pop tops might seem convenient, but juice is packed full of sugar and often highly processed.

2. Soft drink

It might seem like a no-brainer but soft drink is still high on the list of temptations for kids. Studies show 47% of Aussie kids had drunk the stuff in the last 24 hours, so if you still have time to shape your kids’ tastes by avoiding it when they are younger, do!

3. Flavoured milk

Calcium is great, but not if it comes with an extra two or three teaspoons of sugar per serve. Plain, full fat milk is a much better option - milk contains plenty of tasty natural sugars in the form of lactose, and the fat content will help your child to feel full.

4. Packets of chips

These can be sky high in sugar, salt, preservatives – you name it. And they don’t provide much in the way of nutrients to make up for it.

5. Fruit cups

Drowning in sugary syrup, these provide a huge hit of sugar without much benefit. The only product with ‘fruit’ in the title you want to buy is actual fruit.

6. Fruit leather

See above. Dried fruit that has the water removed doesn’t provide the same sensation of fullness, meaning it’s easy to overindulge. Add the preservatives and loss of nutrients and once again, you’re left with a product that takes all the goodness out of fruit.

7. Flavoured yoghurt

Calcium is important, but plain yoghurts can supply it without all the added sugar.

8. ‘Biscuits and dip’ combos

Many of these apparently convenient packaged foods are health no-nos. The biscuit often lacks fibre and is high in sugar and salt, while the dip may contain more sugar, palm oil, and other nasties. Read the label to be certain, but in general highly processed foods are low in essential nutrients and best avoided.

9. Muesli bars

Store bought versions tend to be high in sugar and many contain chocolate or yoghurt coverings which add to the sugar content. (For a healthy homemade alternative, check out our demonstration on Facebook Live).

10. White bread

White bread provides few nutrients, and store bought varieties may be high in sugar and salt. There are so many better alternatives out there!

11. Sweet spreads

Many jams, along with spreads that proclaim their nut content as a health ingredient, are laden with sugar. (Check out this shocking visual image of the contents of a jar of Nutella.) Always check the label, and be realistic about how much your child really would consume in a single serving. If it contains more than two teaspoons of sugar per serve, it's too sugary.

12.  Breakfast drinks

It might seem tempting to have a meal in a juice box, but these drinks are generally seriously high in added sugar. A Choice survey found 10 of these drinks contained 23 grams of sugar per serve - more than a chocolate bar.


For some super easy #sugarswap ideas to replace these foods with better alternatives, check out our 5 second shopping guide for busy parents. And for extra inspiration, here's 4 ways a low sugar lunchbox can help your child thrive at school.