Of all the childhood health concerns, not accomplishing a balanced diet is top of the list for moms recently surveyed in the Nestlé Tuck-shop Truths study.
Almost all moms (98%) said that they are giving their children balanced meals that are healthy to ensure childhood nutrition. Attention deficit disorder (ADD), allergies to certain foods, childhood obesity and the need for proper hydration also featured as health concerns.
Most of the respondents were full-time working moms with two children who have their kids at school by 7:30am. This could make preparing a packed lunchbox challenging but 76% do manage to pack one every day. With the top five items included in lunchboxes being sandwiches, fresh fruit, fruit juice, water and sweets, moms are doing well, but there is still some room for improvement.
“Lunchboxes form an important part of a balanced meal plan and healthy lunchboxes ensure that children are receiving essential nutrients and the recommended kilojoules to sustain their energy levels, alertness and focus during the school day,” says Naazneen Khan, Nutrition, Health and Wellness manager at Nestlé South Africa.
In the same study, it was determined that the school tuck-shop offering is not conducive to a healthy, balanced diet. Moms are fully aware of this, believing that fizzy cold drinks, chips, sweets, chocolate and hot dogs are the five items purchased most often. Yet, 80% of parents give their children on average R10 to spend at the school tuck-shop each day. More alarmingly is the fact that 36% of moms interviewed didn’t know who decides what should be sold at school tuck shops.
Mothers interviewed said that improvements to the current tuck-shop offering can include healthier products that appeal to children (68%), that tuck-shops sell unhealthy items occasionally as a treat (22%) and that tuck-shops offer a wider variety (22%).
The Nestlé Tuck-Shop Truths study surveyed a small sample size of private school tuck shops in Gauteng and interviewed a small national sample size of mothers with children at private and government schools and can therefore not be indicative of the stock and consumption patterns at all tuck shops throughout the country as some schools may get it right.
“While tuck-shops should focus on offering and promoting healthier food and drink choices, the responsibility ultimately lies with parents to educate their children about making healthier choices and to help them to favour healthy, nutritious food,” says Khan, “Until this is achieved, I urge parents to focus on packing healthy, balanced meals, including beverages, for their children’s school lunchboxes and to reserve tuck-shop usage for emergencies and the occasional treat.”
To provide children with the daily nutrition they require, a healthy lunchbox can include:
- Starchy foods such as bread, rice, potatoes or pasta. Use brown, wholegrain or seeded bread or rolls, rice or corncakes, whole-wheat crisp bread or pap from the night before as alternatives.
- Lean proteins such as tuna, boiled eggs, beef, chicken or even leftover mince or stew can make for great sandwich fillers.
- Reduced fat dairy such as low fat yoghurt, reduced fat cheese or low fat milk. Ensure these are kept chilled whether in a cooler bag or alongside a frozen water bottle.
- Fruit and vegetables such as strawberries, apple slices, grapes, carrot sticks or cherry tomatoes. Fruit is easy to pack and raw veggies such as cucumber, celery or lettuce work well as a snack or on a sandwich.
- Water to keep them hydrated. As children often prefer flavoured drinks, try adding cordial or squash to their water but try to avoid highly coloured and artificially sweetened options.
Dr Jörg Spieldenner, Head of Public Health Nutrition at the Nestlé Research Centre in Switzerland and a leading expert on health economics, will be presenting a talk on paediatric malnutrition at the Discovery Vitality Summit at the Sandton Convention Centre on the 16th of August. Despite some improvements in recent years, deficiencies of both macro- and micronutrients, affects millions of children in South Africa and remains a critical concern as it is often the cause of a series of problems including recurring illnesses, decreased physical and intellectual development, poor productivity and a number of negative economic outcomes.