New research by Super Troopers with Laya Healthcare, Ireland’s first-ever 'health homework' programme, has revealed the most popular school lunchbox items, with healthy choices coming out on top according to parents.
The research among parents of school children aged 5 – 12 years reveals that fresh fruit is the most popular lunchbox item, offered to eight in ten school children (79%), while junk food like crisps and chocolate are significantly less popular.
Now in its 5th year, Super Troopers is Ireland's biggest health homework programme and has grown to almost half of all Irish primary schools (1,510 participating schools) with 238,000 school children, 162,000 families and 15,000 teachers taking part in the free initiative this year.
The good news is that Irish children are drinking less fizzy drinks, with just 4% drinking them at school. However, the bad news is that parents are clearly swapping fizzy drinks for sugary waters, with one in five (21%) kids drinking fruit-flavoured water as part of their school lunch offering.
Consultant Dietitian Paula Mee, a member of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (INDI), cautioned parents about the hidden dangers of fruit-flavoured waters. Mee conducted a detailed analysis on 12 fruit-infused waters readily available in Irish stores, revealing some samples provide 22g sugar or five teaspoons in a 250ml serving. Her analysis reveals that some fruit-flavoured waters can be an unhealthy substitute for sugary fizzy drinks, with several containing added sugars, intense sweeteners and other additives.
While Irish parents appear to be offering healthy lunchbox choices to children during the day, the rules around healthy nutrition seem to slip while at home. The Super Troopers research shows that kids are five times more likely to get an unhealthy “treat” at home. One third (36%) of parents say they are giving sweets, crisps, chocolate and soft drinks to their children every day, while 25% say they give treats to their kids between three and six times each week. Just 13% say they only give treats to children at weekends.
Food portion sizes continues to be a challenge, with one in five parents admitting that the portion sizes their children have at home are too large, compared to one in four (38%) who find portion sizes when eating out as a family too large.
Top 10 lunchbox items in primary schools
1. Fresh fruit (79%)
2. Sandwich, wrap or bread roll (79%)
3. Water (74%)
4. Cheese, yoghurt, milk (68%)
5. Vegetables (28%)
6. Fruit flavoured water (21%)
7. Pasta (20%)
8. Salad (15%)
9. Crisps (7%)
10. Chocolate (7%)
How can schools take part in Super Troopers?
Free for schools to participate, Super Troopers encourages families to treat health and well-being with the same importance as traditional homework. It features fun, short-burst activities that prompt children to get moving for at least 10-15 minutes at a time, building towards the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day. The programme also includes mindfulness challenges and expert tips on looking after overall health, such as the importance of getting enough sleep and drinking enough water, along with guidelines on healthy eating.
It’s easy for schools to take part - they simply sign up to participate and all materials are then provided free of charge. Participating schools and families receive Super Trooper activity journals, family wall charts and a teacher’s guide to the Programme.
For registration details along with a guide to Super Trooper activities and recipes, please go online.
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