Not Boxing Clever: Kids Ditch £130 Worth of Lunchbox Items Each Year

When I was a primary school teacher, one of the things that horrified me was how little of their carefully prepared lunches some of the children ate.  With a large percentage of children going hungry during the school day, and most families struggling to make ends meet, it seems disgraceful that some children are throwing vast quantities of food away every term.  And I'm sure it only gets worse as children get older!  Read on for more information about these worrying findings.

Research reveals both mums and kids are bored of packed lunches just six days into term, and half of children waste more than £40 worth of food each term, almost the cost of the average family weekly shop*, as they regularly discard lunchbox items deemed ‘too boring’ to eat.

New research has identified today as the day that mums tire of making packed lunches – and kids get bored of the contents – dubbed the ‘Lunchbox Lag Time’ by researchers. The research of 1,500 mums and kids into variety in the lunchbox was commissioned by leading children’s cheese snack brand, Cheestrings, to launch two new flavours in their range – Cheese & Tomato and Cheese & Onion.

This uncovered that it takes a mere six days into term for the majority of mums (65 per cent) to get lunchbox fatigue and for the variety of items put in to dwindle. The study also revealed that this leads to kids throwing away on average half of their lunchbox each day after this, due to the contents being dull, ‘un-cool’ and unappealing.

By six days into term, mums revert to a rota of only five items in their kids’ lunchboxes, compared to the first week back at school when one in five mums (19 per cent) admit they are much braver in their food choices.

The research also shows that the lunchbox routine has become a chore for mums, with a quarter (25 per cent) admitting they start a new term full of enthusiasm for the task – but that this quickly wanes. This could be due to mums finding themselves spending longer on making lunchboxes than on their own meals (9.98 minutes compared to 8.35 minutes on their own lunch).

And it's not just time mums spend on this – they also spend more on their child’s lunchbox than on feeding themselves, with the average lunchbox costing almost £14 per week, compared to the £10 per week that half of mums (46 per cent) spend on their own lunches. One in fifty even admit to spending over £30 per week on their child’s lunchbox – a staggering £1,140 per year.

Nutritionist Dr Evelyn Hannon believes kids can be prevented from discarding lunchbox items by simply increasing the variety of options available. “With almost half of kids (46 per cent) asking for different lunches each day to keep them interested, mums have a continual challenge of being creative with their lunchbox options whilst desperately wanting to save time and ensure nutritional balance. Simple tips – such as including healthy food in a fun way – will help solve the lunchbox challenge and keep kids and mum happy. A win-win for everyone!”

The research also shows that mums admit to worrying less about the cost of the food thrown away (29 per cent) than the fact that their kids won’t get a fully balanced meal if they don’t eat all of it (33 per cent) – which leads to one in ten mums (11 per cent) admitting to ‘smuggling’ in healthy items disguised as a treat.

Nearly half of mums (47 per cent) confessed that they would like help to make their kids’ lunch more exciting, and almost a quarter (22 per cent) of kids would eat more lunch if it looked more ‘playful and fun’.

However it’s not just the ‘same old’ that’s putting kids off their lunch, with almost one in ten admitting to throwing away an item as they just do not think it is cool. Top ‘Lunchbox Losers’ include vegetables (56 per cent), home-made leftovers (62 per cent) and anything being the ‘wrong’ flavour (92 per cent). In comparison, ‘Lunchbox Loves’ include yoghurt (68 per cent), cheese snacks (71 per cent) and treats such as cake and sweets (76 per cent).

Joao Felix, Senior Brand Manager at Cheestrings, said: “It’s key to find items which offer a good nutritional balance, that kids love and don’t take mum ages to prepare. We launched our new Cheestrings flavours – Cheese & Onion and Cheese & Tomato – to give kids a treat, which mums know is good for them as they provide a quarter of the RDA of calcium and vitamin D. And they don’t take any time to get ready each morning – which will also give mums a bit of time back!”

Come back later in the week to read some top tips for making lunchboxes more exciting...

*Research conducted by ONS and released in February 2013, as part of their Family Spending study:

** The research, commissioned by Cheestrings, of 1,500 mums and children was conducted by OnePoll on 8th August 2013.