PHA encourages parents to pack a healthy lunch for kids

The summer holidays are over and it’s back to class. So with this in mind the Public Health Agency (PHA) and safefood are reminding parents about the importance of packing a healthy lunchbox for children.

Parents of Primary One children across Northern Ireland will receive a copy of the leaflet ‘Are you packing a healthy lunch?’ through their school, which is full of suggestions on how to make the contents of lunchboxes tasty and healthy.

A packed lunch can make a valuable contribution to your child’s diet and it is important to include a balanced variety of foods so that children get all the nutrients they need.

Jennifer McBratney, Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement Senior Officer, PHA said: “It can be a challenge making up a healthy lunchbox, especially when trying to offer choice. However by making some simple swaps to the contents of kids’ lunchboxes, we can make up healthy yet tasty lunchboxes.

“Parents may be surprised to learn that around one in five Year 1 children in Northern Ireland are overweight or obese. Coupled with physical activity, the best way to avoid this problem is to ensure that children eat food which gives them sustained energy but is not loaded with fat and sugar.

“Once we become obese or overweight, this can be difficult to reverse and teaching children healthier eating habits will benefit them for years to come.”

The PHA has found that a typical child’s lunchbox containing a ham sandwich with white bread, a packet of crisps, a chocolate muffin, a yogurt and a 250ml bottle of cola is high in fat and sugar, coming mainly from the muffin, fizzy drink and crisps. This lunch will provide 26g of fat and 52g sugar (more than seventeen sugar cubes).

It also contains no portions of fruit or vegetables, known to be good for health.

Jennifer McBratney said that parents may be tempted to please children and pack lunchboxes with sugary foods and drinks.

“Healthier alternatives are easily available and are quick to prepare. Crisps and muffins can be replaced with fresh or tinned fruit in natural juice or think about including some vegetables like, carrots and cucumber. It is important to keep treats in lunchboxes to once or twice a week or include healthier options such as a mini fruit muffin, sugar free jelly pots or small slice of fruit cake.”

Fiona Gilligan, Director of Communications, safefood said, “Habits formed early in life can have a really positive impact on children as they grow up. And with the new school term here, parents can make the most of that by planning what goes in their children’s lunchbox. Because lunches provide around one third of a child’s daily nutritional needs, it’s a great time to maybe start some new habits and this lunchbox leaflet is full of practical advice for parents including a five day lunchbox planner.”

For further information on eating well, check out the leaflet on the PHA’s website The leaflet is also available to download from the safefood website at

Notes to the editor

The Health Survey for Northern Ireland 2010/11 reported that, using the guidelines put forward by the International Obesity Task Force, 8% of children were assessed as obese, with similar results for boys (8%) and girls (9%). Around a quarter (27%) was assessed as either overweight or obese.