A little antidote to the impending Christmas junk food…
Here’s what’s in one lunchbox:
One small organic apple (100g)
Two small organic bananas (150g peeled weight)
Two clementines (120g peeled weight)
Organic carrot sticks (50g)
Cucumber slices, peeled (75g)
Baby plum tomatoes, halved (100g)
Three dried figs (50g)
Small pot Tesco organic houmous *NOT RAW* (35g)
Also: not-from-concentrate apple juice, diluted with water, blended with a small handful of spinach and sieved through a nut-milk bag (not included in nutritional analysis)
Here’s the macronutrient breakdown (as per the MyFitnessPal app):
Total calories* = 485 (assuming they eat it all, which they probably won’t – at least not at one sitting**)
% of total calories from carbohydrates = 73%
% of total calories from protein = 8%
% of total calories from fat = 19%
* A four-year-old girl needs between 1200 and 1800 calories per day depending on activity level (see here for tables for boys and girls of all ages)
** I tend to open their lunchboxes after school and they finish them then, at about 3:30
For interest, here’s the macronutrient breakdown without the houmous:
Total calories = 385
% of total calories from carbohydrates = 88%
% of total calories from protein = 7%
% of total calories from fat = 5%
Here’s the approximate cost breakdown for one lunchbox (Tesco prices):
Apple = 25p
Bananas = 50p
Clementines = 60p
Carrots = 7p
Cucumber = 30p
Tomatoes = 30p
Dried figs = 27p
Houmous = 18p
Total cost (excluding juice) = £2.47
So this works out at approximately £2.50 per day each, or £12.50 per week or £50 per month. This is quite a commitment given that they are now eligible for free school meals, not only in terms of the money but also the preparation time (and the extra washing up!).
The Children’s Food Trust states that no less than two portions of fruit and vegetables should be available at lunchtime in schools (which doesn’t guarantee consumption of course, whereas I know exactly what my children have eaten) per day per child, including fresh, frozen, canned, dried and juice.
They note on their website that there is currently no recommended portion size for children. One portion for an adult is 80g, and they suggest halving this (40g) for primary school age children, moving towards full adult size portions in secondary school. The advice that one portion is the amount you can fit into the palm of your hand is also helpful. Based on these definitions, this lunchbox contains somewhere between 10 and 15 portions (not including the juice), 9-14 of which are fresh and a proportion of which are organic. I could make this lunchbox cheaper if I shopped around and bought non-organic produce, but I do consider organic worth the extra where it is available.
The cost of school lunches is fairly variable across the country. From year three at our school they will cost £2.20 per day. Another primary school in my northern city charges £1.80 per day for year two pupils. So this gives some comparison. Today the children having hot dinners in our school will be having chilli con carne, boiled rice, loaded potato skins, mixed salad, sweetcorn and red pepper and Eve’s pudding and custard.
Chilli con carne is beef, tomatoes and kidney beans with some spices, onions and garlic, usually served with white rice. The Waitrose version is 49% carbohydrate, 19% protein (see here for my explanation about why this is too high) and 35% fat. Eve’s pudding is a traditional British pudding made from white flour, butter, sugar and eggs, with a few baked apples and raisins thrown in for good measure. The M&S version is 57% carbohydrate and 43% fat (no protein). Together with 100g of (Tesco) custard they would give you 1025 calories (adult portion size), of which 50% are from carbohydrate, 14% from protein and 36% from fat, with probably two reasonable portions of cooked fruits and vegetables (tomatoes and apples). If the children eat a good amount of salad, sweetcorn and peppers they might conceivably make four or even five portions.
This does meet with the guidelines stated on the government website, which states that: “there must be:
high-quality meat, poultry or oily fish
at least 2 portions of fruit and vegetables with every meal
bread, other cereals and potatoes
There can’t be:
fizzy drinks, crisps, chocolate or sweets in school meals and vending machines
more than 2 portions of deep-fried food a week”
I don’t live in St Helens, but I came across their website with this interesting statement: “We provide: Nutritionally balanced meals that meet all Government guidelines […] A typical week’s packed lunch cost around £14.50 per child. Only 1% of these lunches are a nutritionally balanced meal. On the otherhand a two course hot meal with drink served in the dining hall will only cost £10.75 per child per week.“
My lunch boxes would not be considered nutritionally balanced according to Government guidelines (nor would a cheese sandwich, a packet of crisps and an apple – the kind of packed lunch I took to school every day), but I’m okay with that. Doing the breakdown above is helpful, because I can be confident that I am feeding my children purposefully, and giving them what I believe they need to the best of my ability. I would highly recommend doing this exercise occasionally for different meals and snacks – it is very illuminating. For example I was a bit surprised that such a tiny amount of houmous (about two teaspoonfuls) could affect the fat content so much, comprising 20% of the total calories of the box. I will be keeping an eye on that in the future, although at the moment it is the only way I can persuade them to eat their carrots!