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In continuing advocacy efforts, ADA NSW highlighted the importance of healthier lunchboxes for schoolchildren

1 February 2021
The Sydney Morning Herald
Reporter: Paula Goodyer

In continuing advocacy efforts, ADA NSW highlighted the importance of healthier lunchboxes for schoolchildren with this piece in The Sydney Morning Herald.

'Beware the supermarket signs: easy lunchbox ideas for healthier kids'

You know school holidays are over when supermarkets are pushing lunchbox snacks. The “Back to School Sorted” signs beside packs of chocolate Tiny Teddies suggest that pleas to stop marketing so much sugar to kids are falling on deaf ears.
 
Ditto to the displays of Kellogg’s LCMs Unicorn Bars with the same big sugar content as Tiny Teddies: 32 per cent. These are lunchbox fillers that make a dentist’s eyes roll, and they’re not the only ones.
 
“Any sticky or crunchy food, whether it’s dried fruit or a muesli bar can linger in the grooves of teeth for hours,” explains paediatric dentist Dr Sarah Raphael from the Australian Dental Association NSW (ADA NSW). Rolls or strips made of dried fruit are in the same category. They might claim “no added sugar” but their naturally high sugar content makes them fodder for decay-causing bacteria, she says.
 
You know school holidays are over when supermarkets are pushing lunchbox snacks. The “Back to School Sorted” signs beside packs of chocolate Tiny Teddies suggest that pleas to stop marketing so much sugar to kids are falling on deaf ears. Ditto to the displays of Kellogg’s LCMs Unicorn Bars with the same big sugar content as Tiny Teddies: 32 per cent. These are lunchbox fillers that make a dentist’s eyes roll, and they’re not the only ones.
 
“Any sticky or crunchy food, whether it’s dried fruit or a muesli bar can linger in the grooves of teeth for hours,” explains paediatric dentist Dr Sarah Raphael from the Australian Dental Association NSW (ADA NSW). Rolls or strips made of dried fruit are in the same category. They might claim “no added sugar” but their naturally high sugar content makes them fodder for decay-causing bacteria, she says.
 
“In the time between lunch and when teeth meet a toothbrush at bedtime, bacteria can feed on the sugary traces left by these foods. The bacteria produce acid that breaks down tooth enamel.”
 
About one-third of five to six-year-olds in NSW and Victoria have decay in their primary (or “baby”) teeth and about 25 per cent of children aged 6-14 have decay in their permanent teeth, according to the ADA NSW. Raphael says that rates of tooth decay that fell in the 1970s with the introduction of fluoride began climbing in the early ’90s, coinciding with the growing availability of packaged snacks and soft drink.
 
It’s not just teeth that are in trouble. Figures from the Obesity Evidence Hub show that one in four Australian children is overweight or obese and that discretionary foods – the non-essential food category that includes items such as biscuits, cakes, confectionery and packaged snacks – make up about 40 per cent of the daily kilojoule intake of four to 18-year-olds.
 
Although it’s possible to find healthier snack packs for kids, it takes some sleuthing. Front of pack promises such as “less sugar” or “air-popped, not fried” are no help – you need to flip the pack to read the nutrition panel and ingredient list to find the truth. That goes for products in the health food aisle, too – such as “lunchbox friendly” Triple Berry Mini Rice Cakes, which at 27 per cent sugar are close behind Tiny Teddies, or Chicken Rice Wheels, which at 504 milligrams of sodium per 100 grams have more sodium than Doritos.
 
“Many of these foods are highly processed, low in nutrients and fibre, and based on ‘fast release’ high GI carbohydrates that don’t provide a sustained release of energy into a child’s bloodstream over the day,” says Sydney-based paediatric dietitian and parent Karina Savage.
 
“Kids need lower GI carbohydrates foods like wholegrain breads and wraps, legumes and fruit that are released slowly. This helps keep blood sugar levels stable – that supports good concentration and learning, and a happier mood at school pick up.”
 
Her advice for other key lunchbox foods includes:

  • Vegies for fibre, vitamins and minerals. Aim for at least two different coloured vegetables in the lunchbox. Don’t stop at carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes or mini cucumbers – try corn on the cob, red capsicum strips, sugar snap peas or roast veg.

  • Quality protein foods. Shredded chicken, boiled egg, tuna, baked beans, hummus, frittata, cheese, yoghurt or meatballs are good – but skip processed meats.

  • Good fats. Usually nuts aren’t allowed so try seeds such as sunflowers and pepitas; incorporate tahini, linseed and chia into home-baked goods. Use mashed avocado as a spread.

Not every lunchbox sandwich needs a smiley face.
 
“School lunches don’t have to be ‘Instagrammable’ –just as balanced as possible and with minimally processed foods,” Savage says.
 
“Children often like predictability and that can extend to lunchboxes. We parents might worry about lack of variety but some children may prefer the consistency. As long as there’s a good amount of colour with some protein and slow release carbs, you’re on a winner!”
 
Does it help to get kids involved in choosing lunchbox foods?
 
“They may be more open to eating their lunch if they have some say – giving them a couple of healthy options to choose from, for instance. But be firm on the need for a balance of food,” Savage says.


Read the full Sydney Morning Herald article >

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