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6 sneaky lunchbox snacks disguised as ‘healthy’

6 unhealthy lunchbox snacks and their healthy swaps

Two young children in their school uniform smile up at the camera while their lunchboxes filled with healthy foods sit on their laps
Two young children in their school uniform smile up at the camera while their lunchboxes filled with healthy foods sit on their laps

Did you know that the average child’s lunchbox contains more than three serves of ‘discretionary’ or ‘sometimes’ foods?

And the scary thing is, because of misleading labels and sneaky advertising campaigns, many of us don’t even realise these snacks are unhealthy in the first place.

Good nutrition is linked to better behaviour and improved concentration, preparing kids to learn and play; so it really is essential that we know what we’re putting in our kids’ lunchboxes.

nib foundation has partnered with the University of Newcastle to support parents and carers to SWAP out ‘sometimes’ foods and SWAP in healthy ‘everyday’ alternatives that are packed full of vitamins and minerals.

We’ve highlighted six of the most common unhealthy snacks and put together some easy, but yummy swaps that you can try instead.

6 lunchbox snacks to stop buying ASAP

From clever marketing to ‘expert-approved’ health claims, finding a wholesome lunchbox snack is tricky. Here are six of the biggest culprits that are regularly mistaken for healthy snacks – and how you can swap them for something more nutritious!

1. Muesli bars

Otherwise known as health bars, superfood bars, oat bars or nut bars, these are often mistaken as healthy snacks. Even though muesli bars usually contain healthy ingredients like oats, nuts and seeds, it’s the added flavours and sweeteners like sugar and oil that result in this snack becoming high in energy, sugar and fat.

SWAP the muesli bar for fresh fruit, raw unsalted nuts, sunflower or pumpkins seeds, or roasted fava beans.

Before packing nuts, remember to check your school’s policy as many schools have a ‘nut-free policy.

A young girl eats an apple while wearing her school uniform

2. Pre-packaged cheese-dip and crackers

Let’s be honest; even mum and dad have a hard time saying ‘no’ to a few crackers and a nice cut of Gouda, but a pre-packaged cheesy dip is not the healthiest option for your child.

These packaged snacks often contain just 50% cheese, meaning they provide little calcium and contain lots of added ingredients leading to a high energy, low nutrient snack.

SWAP out your prepackaged cheesy dip and crackers for wholegrain water crackers, wholegrain rice crackers or vegetable sticks with sliced cheese or mini tubs of hummus or tzatziki.

3. Fruit drinks and poppers

It’s easy to assume that fruit drinks are just drinks that contain fruit, right? Unfortunately this is just another clever marketing ploy. Many of these drinks contain very little of the good stuff (fruit) and are instead packed full of concentrate and sugar, meaning you could be popping a popper in your child’s lunchbox that’s high in kilojoules and low in fibre.

SWAP out the fruit drinks for plain water, water with a few slices of fresh lemon, strawberries or cucumber or a plain milk popper.

Many fruit juices contain very little fruit and instead they're full of concentrate and sugar

4. Savoury biscuits

Many savoury bikkies claim to be baked not fried, which gets us thinking ‘that’s gotta be healthy’!


Did you know biscuits can still be baked in just as much fat or oil as what they would be if they were fried? Many savoury biscuits contain 20-25% fat and lots of added salt.

SWAP out those savoury biscuits for plain air-popped popcorn, rice crackers, rice cakes or roasted legume snacks.

5. ‘Natural’ fruit strings

Fruit strings and fruit leathers are advertised as a healthy and ‘natural’ lunchbox snack, but they’re actually berry misleading. These treats have been highly processed to remove all the water content, leaving it with loads of sugar and lacking in the nutrients and vitamins that fresh fruit contain.

SWAP out your fruit leathers for fresh fruit and vegetables – and you get extra points if you choose in-season produce!

A group of young children laying on the ground and smiling at the camera hold fruit and vegetables in their hands

6. Dairy desserts

It’s not just labelling and advertising that can get us confused when it comes to eating healthy – it seems that supermarkets can also lead us astray. Dairy desserts like chocolate custards and rice puddings are often placed next to the yoghurts in the grocery aisles, leading us to believe they’re just as nutritious. These desserts contain added sugar and fat to make them taste good, which results in a high kilojoule snack that has very little nutritional benefit.

SWAP out these dairy desserts for reduced fat yoghurt (why not choose natural yoghurt as it contains no added sugar and add some fruit like berries to add flavour).

What does a healthy ‘everyday’ lunchbox look like?

The ideal lunchbox for your child is one that’s packed with healthy ‘everyday’ foods that your child will actually eat; because what’s the point if little Jimmy or Jane throw out their apple every recess or trade their salad sandwich at lunch for a packet of chips?

Here’s a quick guide (along with a few options) to help make packing your child’s lunchbox easier:

  • Crunch & Sip break (otherwise known as a fruit break): A serve of vegetables or fruit like cherry tomatoes, strawberries or grapes.

  • Recess: An everyday snack like plain popcorn, yoghurt or rice crackers and cheese.

  • Lunch: A sandwich, wrap or bread roll (salad and cheese) or last night’s leftovers (chicken breast and vegetables) and an extra piece of fruit or a serve of vegetables (apple, banana, celery and carrot sticks).

  • Plenty of water to keep hydrated

You can start improving your child’s health today by making one simple SWAP and work your way up to creating your own ‘everyday’ lunchbox. Have a look at the Good for Kids, Good for Life SWAP IT website for great tips and tricks!

Looking for a range of healthy options to add into the lunchbox? We partnered with nutritionist Jessica Sepel to develop a series of yummy recipes exclusive to The Check Up.