Nutritionists call for healthy lunch program to be rolled out in schools across Australia


If you were able to sneak veggies and wholefoods into your child’s lunchbox, would they eat it over the standard packed Aussie lunch?

One nutritionist thinks so, and she also thinks it might be cheaper.

A Flinders University survey found 40 per cent of the food school children eat is junk food, such as cakes, chips and biscuits

Instead of breaking the bank on superfoods or spending precious time slaving away in the kitchen, paediatric nutritionist Mandy Sacher wants people to go back to basics and avoid the usual pre-packaged school snacks.

“I would never send an adult to work with a jam sandwich, a cheese stick and shapes, but for some reason as a society we think this is okay for children,” she said.

“I really want to bridge the gap between what we perceive as healthy adult food and healthy children’s food.”

The nutritionist works with childcare centres and pre-schools to expose children to vegetables early, and to help educate parents and the community about nutrition.

“Healthy eating does not have to be gourmet, you don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen; four simple ingredients can actually make a delicious healthy meal.”

Nutritionist Mandy Sacher (left) shows a group of mums in a kitchen an array of healthy school lunch choices.
Mandy Sacher (left) takes mums through healthy school lunch choices.(ABC News: Kathleen Ferguson)

She created a series of children’s lunches for the ABC and found the healthier options were cheaper or had a similar cost to the unhealthy ones.

“When you actually strip it back and get back to basics you are focussing on seasonal vegetables and fruit, plus you’re getting wholegrains and healthy lean proteins — it is not that expensive.”

Darwin childcare centre Journey Early Learning has watched children’s focus and behaviour improve as they introduce increasingly healthy foods under a nutrition program.

Four children watch on as an adult shows them how she is preparing some food.
Children at Journey Early Learning centre are taught how to make healthy food choices.(Supplied)

Assistant director Emily Sharp said it had proven equally popular with the children’s families.

“I think it has given families a bit more of an idea of sometimes how to hide the veggies in the children’s food and make their meals more nutritious without necessarily the children not liking the taste of the food,” .

Researchers are calling for highly nutritious programs like this one to be rolled out across Australia, including in schools.

Professor Rebecca Golley from Flinders University thinks a universal lunch program would help boost health and education outcomes.

“It is probably more achievable than we first think to do something different with school food in Australia,” she said.

Children use tongs to serve themselves healthy food options from a table.
Students are encouraged to serve themselves to help learn about nutrition.(Supplied)

Professor Golley said the nation should be learning from places like France and Japan, where school lunch programs have led to bolstered health outcomes for children.

“We want to see whether there are some more sustainable options where industry, government and the not-for-profit sector could work together to achieve something more sustainable and more nutritious to support children’s health and learning,” she said.

Federal Labor MP and clinician doctor Mike Freelander said Australia had a serious health crisis on its hands and that nutrition would play a key role in addressing it.

“Some foods, highly processed foods, you can see the advertising is 90 per cent fruit, all natural, all this sort of thing,” he said.

Dr Freelander said it was not the parents’ fault and that policy, especially around advertising, needed to improve.

“It is frustrating to me because I don’t blame the parents, I certainly don’t blame the kids, but I know in the long run they will be damaged by this and we have to stop it.”



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