Ask the Dentist: Children's lunch boxes – the healthier option is also a cheaper option

Lucy Stock, dentist at Gentle Care in Belfast, says you don't have to spend more to give your children a healthy, low-sugar lunch – in fact, the opposite is the case

A lunch without sugar-laden 'breakfast' bars, sweetened fruit yoghurt and a sugary juice can mean a small financial saving and a big health difference
Lucy Stock

HEALTHY eating is often thought of as expensive; however, when it comes to children's lunch boxes, families can actually save money and give their child’s teeth a big fat low-sugar hug.

Let’s take a typical lunchbox with, say, a ham and cheese sandwich, juice cartoon, crisps, breakfast bar and a yoghurt. If you buy in bulk from the cheapest sources, this lunch costs about £1.05. On the other hand, the healthier lunchbox with the sandwich, slice of melon, carrot and cucumber sticks with hummus and water costs roughly 85p. A small saving but still a saving.

Perhaps more importantly is the difference in sugar contents between the two lunches. The first – let’s call it the sugar-loaded lunch – has 13 teaspoons of sugar, while the low-sugar one contains two teaspoons. You wouldn’t dream of spooning out 13 teaspoons of sugar into a drink and asking the child to drink it – that's obviously wrong. But because it is hidden within the foods, we are fooled into thinking that what we are giving is OK.

It’s not only their bodies that benefit. When children aren’t on the sugar roller-coaster their concentration is more sustained and behaviour improved (the teachers will love you).

Logically it all sounds great. We understand the idea but changing a habit is tough. You may have a picky child who eats a limited variety of foods and is difficult to feed at the best of times. So changing all the lunch box at once will probably meet with resistance.

Try swapping one item at a time for a healthier alternative. Try not to fall into the trap of buying sugar-free juices or breakfast bars. The sugar in these types of foods are normally replaced by sugar in another form which are equally as tooth and body toxic. Choose water or milk for the drink and there are loads of healthy lunch box ideas on the web.

I often read about how it’s OK to have sugary things with meals. This may have been OK at one time but nowadays the sugar dial very much points to excess. With the amount of snacking that goes on this advice is outdated – we really need to stop sugar intake altogether.

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