Shocking new packed lunch statistics

I have some scary packed lunch news for you. Not ‘preschooler finds snake in marmite sandwich’ scary – statistically scary.

(Because maths is fun guys!)

Flora has been working with Leeds University to recreate a huge study that was first done 10 years ago, looking at packed lunches in schools. Back in 2006, the research found that only 1% of packed lunches were meeting healthy food standards. So basically, you could have gone into any school hall, and you’d maybe have found one lunchbox that wasn’t crap. In my day, that one would belong to the unpopular kid with the parents who gave him carrot sticks and home made hummus and make him wear faux-leather school shoes from a ‘specialist’ shop. But that was the 80s, and they were harsh.

Forward wind* ten years then, and you would hope that lunch box standards have improved. I mean, we’ve got Jamie Oliver now right?


(We do have Jamie Oliver, that bit’s not wrong, this isn’t some kind of creepy celebrity chef murdering confession.)

Ten years later, despite there now being about approximately 8.3 million pictures on Pinterest of kids’ healthy bento lunch box ideas**, according to Flora’s research, still only 1.6% of lunch boxes are meeting healthy food standards. We look at pictures of mini olive kebabs and strawberries cut into the shapes of individual Mr Men, and then we sigh, pour another glass of wine, and just whack in a jam sandwich, Penguin bar and a bag of Skips.

healthy packed lunch ideas


I told you it was scary. 98.4% of the packed lunches in the research contained too many snacks and sweetened drinks and not enough fruits and vegetables, leading to high levels of saturated fat, non-milk extrinsic sugars and salt and low levels of vitamins and minerals.

Flora is now calling on the government to raise awareness and do more to ensure that children’s nutritional standards for lunch boxes are being met and is working closely with the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on School Food, Sharon Hodgson MP in order to make sure positive action is taken.

They’re doing practical stuff to, like providing healthy, easy lunchbox recipe inspiration that doesn’t involve staying up half the night trying to sculpt an apricot into a sea creature. You can’t just talk about how bad something is without offering any solutions after all.

Healthy lunch box inspiration

The thing is, that it’s not actually that difficult to put together a healthy packed lunch. It doesn’t have to be fancy, or expensive even, it just requires a teeny bit of thought. (I say this in a totally non-preachy way, as a mother who has made their fair share of jam sandwich lunches, and who has most definitely never sculpted an apricot into anything.)

To get you started, I put together, (yes you guessed it), a Pinterest board of ideas. These are meant to be real ideas though, not just pretty pictures. You can see them all here:


I’ve included a few of my favourite Flora lunch box recipe ideas, but you can see those in full here. Flora also have this handy lunchbox builder, which might be something to print out and stick on the fridge for when you’re lacking inspiration.

Flora healthy lunch box recipe ideas

I think this approach could work really well with younger children especially. My kids always loved doing that whole ‘pick and mix’ style eating. Quite often when they were younger they would make me write out menus of things we could have for tea, and then they’d tick the boxes next to the items they wanted. (They were very demanding. Normally it meant we ended up with random combinations like pasta, sweetcorn, cucumber, bread and grapes.)

How do you feel about the healthy packed lunch statistics? Would you put yourself in that 98.4% or do your kids love nothing better than munching on grilled chicken and raw broccoli?

If you have any healthy lunch box recipes that go down well in your house, please do leave a comment and let me know!

*Everyone at home gets MAD when I say forward wind, and says it should be ‘fast forward’, but you REWIND don’t you? Why can’t you forward wind?

**Made up fact.

Sponsored post. Sunshine egg image. – Fusionacs/shutterstock.



  1. 7 September, 2016 / 11:09 am

    I have witnessed some terrible packed lunches in my son’s previous school – share size bags of crisps, multiple cakes and fizzy drinks…all for the same child believe it or not.

    My son takes a sandwich (today was ham, lettuce and tomato – home grown #supermum), a yoghurt/Frube, a portion of fruit and a small packet of crisps; he is also encouraged to drink water much to his disapproval. Healthy lunchboxes aren’t hard and if your child “doesn’t like fruit and veg” then sorry but man up and be a parent! There will be something healthy they like so rather than bending to the child’s will by giving them high sugar snacks, go out and find it or change the way you present said healthy food. There is no reason for it, unless the child is allergic to every fruit and veg on the planet ;)

  2. 7 September, 2016 / 1:49 pm

    This is fascinating and shocking… I think I need to use the lunch book builder for my lunch!

    Have a great day. x

  3. 7 September, 2016 / 4:50 pm

    I try to do a healthy packed lunch along with a treat but my daughter often says that she is the only one eating fruit for a snack and when she has baby sweetcorn or mangetout their heads spin !
    I also think that some of the school meals on offer don’t meet any of my standards of nutrition with too many sweet treats and puddings and a lack of vegetables.
    It would be interesting to see what the standards are.

    • Jo Middleton
      7 September, 2016 / 5:31 pm

      I’m imagining the other kids crowding round, agog at the baby sweetcorn! Such a shame :-(

  4. 7 September, 2016 / 8:33 pm

    Wow those are some shocking statistics. I must admit that I am not great with lunch boxes, I do tend to put in brown bread and nutella sandwiches, a banana, some popcorn and some fruit gum sweets. I find it really hard to think of ideas for my fussy eaters. x

    • Jo Middleton
      8 September, 2016 / 11:50 am

      It’s hard isn’t it Katie? By the sounds of it though, the brown bread and banana have already put you ahead of a lot of parents! I find that our packed lunches get stuck in a real rut. Belle really likes tuna and sweetcorn for example in her sandwiches, so I find myself making the same thing for weeks on end. I don’t feel like that’s terribly good for broadening her food horizons!

  5. 7 September, 2016 / 10:02 pm

    Such a great post and it’s been something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately now that baby is on normal food. I really want her to have a healthy relationship with food and this all starts with what I give her- have save your healthy lunch ideas to my Pinterest board to try out! x

  6. 27 September, 2016 / 1:01 pm

    That is shocking but not surprising either. There are loads of ready made ‘lunch box’ things that can be bought that it’s easy to grab those and put them in, in the frantic pre-school morning rush. My daughter currently has school dinners but has recently asked for packed lunches so will follow your pinterest board with interest.

  7. 6 October, 2016 / 10:45 am

    I love the pinterest board you’ve created! Looks such fun and you are right, these lunch boxes don’t have to be complicated, just follow the lunchbox bingo and you are there!

  8. 10 January, 2017 / 3:30 pm

    My eldest daughter started pre-school last week so I’ve been obsessed with hunting down healthy bento box lunch ideas on Pinterest. I’m an expert now and my board has become one of my most popular pretty much overnight which shows me that people are obviously searching for inspiration. But perhaps they are falling flat when it comes to actually doing it as it does involve a lot more planning and preparation. I’m only on week two so best check back to see if my lunches are still Pinterest quality next year lol.
    I’ve never encouraged my 3 year old to eat unhealthy snacks. She never had crisps, biscuits, cake or chocolate until after she was 2 and consequently she never really eats it now. I never offer her these snacks or treats but if she asks I will give it to her as I don’t want to turn it into something shameful. I was worried about her pre-school lunch box as she will obviously see other kids with chocolate and cake and I don’t want her to feel like she’s missing out. So far so good though. The only complaint I’ve had from her was today when she said another child had an orange and why didn’t she. I’m just so proud of her. Although I have found that the problem with these bento style boxes is that she will tend to eat all the snack foods first and will often leave her sandwich untouched. I now need to work out how to make sure that doesn’t happen. The challenge is on.

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