Teachers reveal the worst packed lunches

A Facebook thread asking teachers in the UK for the worst examples of a child’s packed school lunch has thrown up quite a few surprises! Were there too many treats? Did they bring peanut butter sandwiches to a nut-free school? Did they sneak in a piece of birthday cake? Nope. Not even close.

The worst lunches

Prepare yourself as these are not examples of a parent who’s run out of bread and fresh fruit at the end of the week and has had to throw together a mish-mash of packaged convenience foods (we’ve ALL been there!). No, these examples shared by teachers are just straight up shocking.

  • A pork pie and a can of shandy. The student had made the lunch himself and that’s all there was in the fridge.
  • A can of Red Bull and a bag of Monster Munch corn snacks.
  • A packet of ginger biscuits – mum had been “too tired” to go to the shops.
  • When a teacher questioned a parent on why their child had brought a can of Red Bull for lunch they were told, “He’d had a late night on his Xbox and seemed like he needed a pick-me-up.”
  • A Happy Meal box with a cold McDonald’s burger and fries. The child’s grandmother explained that it had been bought the day before but wasn’t eaten.
  • A child with no lunch said he had cereal with water for breakfast because his mother needed the milk for her coffee.

None of the above examples resemble a healthy lunch for growing kids. These are the extremes – or, at least, they should be. In 2012, TV current affairs show Campbell Live visited two NZ schools to look at the difference between kids’ lunches at a decile 1 and a decile 10 school with pretty shocking results. Last year, Newshub.co.nz revisited similar classes to see if there had been any progress. You can read the report here. One of the kids at the decile 1 school had an apple as his entire lunch (and had had no breakfast) and another had a packet of gingernuts for lunch.

The perfect lunch box

There are a dozen different reasons why a child’s lunch box may not be the perfectly balanced, healthy and nutritious meal that health specialists want us to achieve. Even if you are able to afford and prepare the perfect lunch, you can’t make your child eat it. So often parents will opt for “fed is best”. And there is absolutely no judgement here! One look in my kid’s lunch box and teachers would probably wonder if I’m really doing my best. I am. But they don’t know the years of struggle to get him to eat even a little bit of variety due to sensory issues.

It’s never easy to ask for help but families who are struggling to afford food for the family can seek assistance from organisations like The Foodbank Project, Whanau feeding Whanau (Wellington), St Vinnies, and Salvation Army. You can find a list of local foodbanks at Foodbank New Zealand. Some areas are setting up a community or social pantry. Search on Facebook for one near you (or set one up for your community). There are also community fruit harvest and food rescue groups.

Do you struggle to find a good balance for your child’s school lunch? Join the discussion in the comments below.

This article was written by Julie Scanlon, Editor for Kidspot NZ.

Read more on Kidspot:


  1. dawnblyth 30/09/2018 at 10:21 pm

    A child needs sustenance to get through the day, to allow their little brains to work properly and for them to grow. It is sad when there is not sustenance to give a child what they need. At our local kindy, once a month, the local green grocer will donate a box of fresh fruit for the children to share at the end of the day on the mat. I am very lucky to be in a position where I can offer my boys a healthy lunch box with fresh fruit, sandwiches etc and they eat it.

  2. Alezandra 30/09/2018 at 9:56 pm

    Same comment…I was flabbergasted with the pack or Red Bull? Huh? We had an article of judgments on lunches on how to have it healthy and not too much sugar…and now this on the worst lunches out there. I remember reading another article that promoted pay it forward type of lunch where you put a food on a table that you might not like or need and someone else can take it and vice versa.

  3. felicity beets 28/09/2018 at 8:29 am

    It would be great if there were lunches provided in schools for children that didn’t have anything. Luckily at the moment I don’t have too much trouble with my boys eating their packed lunches.

  4. kymmage 27/09/2018 at 8:52 pm

    My kids’ lunchboxes are usually filled with sugar and packets, etc. I give them what they will eat, though they are starting to make more healthy choices. It seems like some of these cases, the parents weren’t really involved in the lunchbox selection, though having some input from parents is going to be the better option. Shandy? and as for the redbull…ekkk

  5. Jen_Wiig 26/09/2018 at 5:06 pm

    I get that these lunches are awful esp a kid with a redbull…they dont even allow juice let alone energy drink at my boys schools, but I always have a motto a kid fed is better than not and then in turn not attending school…I see articles like this all the time and always lead to same question…if its so bad then why not bring a better option for the kid to school..yeah yeah not your kid etc but its a darn sight better than moaning about it and doing nothing I would’ve thought? gone are the days of a sense of community and looking out for a child regardless of the parents…its not there fault after all they are just a kid.
    I actually thought UK was like US and supplied cooked or canteen type lunches anyway? obviously not.

  6. Bevik1971 26/09/2018 at 1:49 pm

    Just last week I was in the cloak room with my 5 year old daughter, one of her classmates walked in with her Mum with a lollipop in her mouth. I looked at her and her Mum saw me and said “I know, not a very healthy breakfast” and laughed but she looked a bit embarrassed. Well I would be too as that’s not great 🙁 I must say it is hard to cater for some kids especially if they are intolerant to certains foods. Our 5 year old is dairy and gluten intolerant so makes it that much harder.

  7. Mands1980 25/09/2018 at 8:23 am

    Wow this is a real eye opener on what some kids take as there school lunch obviously the parents do not even know what they take with them. Lunches are a daily struggle and kids can be very fussy I know mine are I try put in healthy things and watch what they pack and take out certain foods they should not have there at school.

  8. Shelz69 22/09/2018 at 7:25 pm

    I absolutely struggle to give my kids a healthy lunch and mostly settle with giving them the biggest breakfast I can and sending them with food that they will actually eat. I throw in healthy food but do it in smaller portions and have it nicely chopped so its easier to eat. I found that they would eat the little healthy treat but if I put to much in they would not even touch it. I certainly would not consider red bull or a shandy to be an option though. I do feel for the children who do not have food to eat, makes me very sad.

  9. Shorrty4life1 22/09/2018 at 4:54 pm

    Omg what the heck are parents thinking with sending a child with a redbull to school. Wowee I would expect a huge lecture for the teacher myself if I sent my child with something like that. I do alot of healthy things fruit, sandwich and cheese and crackers etc. But I believe no lunch is the perfect lunch. I also think the McDonald happy meal for lunch should be a no go for school lunch it’s more a treat like once a month for my children. Some may say a little deprived but I say just looking out for them

Leave A Comment