One in 5 NZ parents believe their kid is swapping lunch at school, 1 in 11 say food coming home uneaten as prices rise

Stock image of a healthy lunchbox with crackers, fruit, veg and sandwiches
New research has lifted the lid on Kiwi kids' lunchboxes. Photo credit: Getty Images

New research has lifted the lid on Kiwi kids' lunchboxes, revealing that despite parents' best efforts, many children are trading their food at school for more desirable items. 

A recent survey commissioned by Countdown found that one in five parents (20 percent) believe their child is swapping their lunch at school, while one in 11 (9 percent) revealed that around half of their kids' packed lunch returns home untouched. 

It comes as the food price index rose again in June, pushed up by an increase in the cost of staples such as eggs, yoghurt and cheese. In a statement on Friday, Statistics NZ confirmed food prices are up 12.5 percent compared to this time last year.

This is also despite the almost daily conundrum many parents face while attempting to curate a lunch that is both tasty and nutritious, with one in three (36 percent) admitting they scramble around the kitchen each morning looking for suitable foods to pack. 

Comparatively, the survey found that one in five parents (20 percent) are opting to prepare their children's school lunches the night before to avoid the morning rush, while 14 percent of those surveyed said their children make their own lunches. 

About 30 percent of parents said they dedicate about one-quarter of their children's lunchboxes to fruit and vegetables, while 82 percent said they make sure at least one piece of fruit or serving of veggies is included - findings which have been applauded by Countdown's nutritionist, Deb Sue.

"By prioritising these foods, parents are setting their kids up for success throughout the school day and strong healthy eating habits will help them thrive long after their schooling too," Sue said on Thursday.

"When it comes to selecting fresh produce for those lunchboxes, shopping seasonally is a fantastic way to ensure maximum flavour, freshness, and nutritional value. It's also a good way to explore the abundance of local fruits and vegetables that thrive during different times of the year."

Mandarins and carrots are some good options for lunchboxes during the winter as the produce is great value, in season and full of flavour, Sue added. Otherwise, canned or frozen fruit and vegetables are always a good bet if your kids' favourites are not in season.

Other key findings in the survey revealed:

  • The most popular lunchbox items were (in order of popularity): sandwiches with spreads, sandwiches with meats or vegetables, muesli bars, chips, biscuits, leftovers and homemade baking.
  • Creativity is key for getting children to eat more fruit and veges: according to some respondents, peeling or cutting fruit into fun shapes helped up their intake, with smaller pieces meaning whole fruits, such as apples, weren't being returned uneaten.
  • Diversification of the lunchbox is important: some surveyed parents reported providing a variety of foods in their kids' school lunches, looking to mix it up every time.

The survey was sent to a sample of 500 parents across Aoteaora New Zealand asking a series of questions about school lunches, including but not limited to, who makes them; what they put in the lunches; how much of the lunch comes back home uneaten; and whether parents think their kids are secretly trading their food for favourites.