World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) believes the fact that 40 per cent of primary school children’s lunchboxes do not contain any fruits or vegetables – compared to 10 per cent for school canteen meals – means they are not sufficiently healthy.
It is calling for changes similar to those Jamie Oliver championed for school dinners and is urging parents to make sure their children’s packed lunches always contain at least two portions of fruits and vegetables.
As part of this, WCRF has launched an online game, My Packed Lunch, at http://www.greatgrubclub.com/my-packed-lunch. The aim of the game is to make packed lunches fun for children and the interactive meal planner gives parents and children ideas for foods that are both healthy and tasty.
Kate Mendoza, Head of Education at WCRF, said: “There is no doubt Jamie Oliver helped achieve great things for the food served in school canteens. But as the nutritional content of school canteen meals has improved, the healthiness of the content of lunchboxes has been left behind.
“It is disappointing that children are going to school with lunchboxes that are not playing their part in helping to encourage the kind of healthy diet that is so important for their future. This is why we want to get across the message to parents that including a piece of fruit or using a portion of salad as a filling for a sandwich are positive things they can do for their children’s health.
“It can sometimes be difficult for parents to control what their children eat, particularly if they are passing shops on the way home from school or visiting their friends. But parents can influence what is in their packed lunches and the fact that not all of them are doing so is a missed opportunity.
“We know from a recent Ofsted report that parents are tired of being told what not to put in lunchboxes. They want some advice about what is healthy rather than what’s not healthy.
“There is also anecdotal evidence that some schools are reluctant to advise parents on packed lunches because they fear being considered patronising or that an unsophisticated approach would cause a reaction against their advice.
“We also understand that parents can find it challenging to buy healthy food on a limited budget. That is why the meal options included in the My Packed Lunch game have been chosen to be inexpensive as well as healthy.”
Great Grub Club (GGC) at www.greatgrubclub.com is an online club for four- to 11-year-olds that promotes healthy lifestyle habits children will hopefully carry into adulthood, reducing their risk of developing cancer and other chronic diseases later in life. WCRF recommends that both children and adults eat at least five portions a day of a range of fruits and vegetables.
As well as providing up to two portions of 5 A DAY, My Packed Lunch has an educational role in providing tips on healthy eating.
Notes to editors:
- The figures on fruit and vegetable content of school meals comes from the School Food Trust’s (SFT) Primary School Food Survey, 2009, which found that 58 per cent of pupils with packed lunches had items contributing to their 5 A DAY and “over 90 per cent” of pupils eating a school meal ate 5 A DAY items.
- The Great Grub Club is aimed at children aged four to 11. Rather than referring explicitly to cancer, it focuses on the fact that healthy eating and physical activity can be fun. The My Packed Lunch menu options comply with the SFT recommendations for packed lunches and the NHS recommendations for healthy lunch boxes.
- My Packed Lunch includes 10 main meals set out to allow plenty of choice. There are also 10 choices for snacks and five drink options. Each menu is seasonal and is changed every quarter, providing even more variety. The online game is brightly coloured and provides children with their menu options. After packing each day’s meal, the child is congratulated and asked if he or she would like to continue planning the rest of the week’s meals. At the end, the week’s menu can be printed to help in the preparation of the lunches.
- Menu options Mains: Butternut squash soup with wholegrain bread; cous cous with roasted vegetables and chickpeas; wholegrain wrap with chicken, cucumber, tomato and lettuce; wholegrain bread sandwich with humous and grated carrot; wholegrain pasta salad with tinned tuna, cherry tomatoes, sweetcorn and spring onions; wholegrain bagel with lettuce, tinned salmon and low-fat cream cheese; wholegrain roll with egg, cress, lettuce and low-fat mayonnaise; wholegrain pasta salad with tomatoes, green beans and sweetcorn in green pesto sauce; wholegrain pitta bread with falafel, lettuce, cress, tomato and cucumber. Snack: Low-fat cream cheese on wholegrain cracker with grapes; carrot and cucumber sticks; low-fat yoghurt; dried fruits; unsalted seeds; fruit salad with apple, blackberries and mango; pear and plum; cherry tomatoes; a sweet treat, eg two small biscuits (once a week); tinned fruit juice. Drinks: Water; semi-skimmed milk; pure orange juice; pure apple juice; blackberry smoothie. Fruit juice and smoothies can only be chosen once a week.
World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) raises awareness that cancer is largely preventable and helps people make choices to reduce their chances of developing the disease.
This includes research into how cancer risk is related to diet, physical activity, and weight management, and education programmes that highlight the fact that about a third of cancers could be prevented through changes to lifestyle. For more information on the charity’s work, visit www.wcrf-uk.org
The WCRF report, called Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective, was launched in November 2007 and is the most comprehensive report ever published on the link between cancer and lifestyle. For more information, visit www.dietandcancerreport.org