Recommended lunches are unrealistic for many families
It's every parent's dilemma: do you pack your child's lunchbox with healthy food they won't eat, or give in and feed them junk?
You'd think that health experts might be trying to help, but not according to schools who say the guidelines they get are totally unrealistic.
The Heart Foundation is suggesting to low-income parents that they send their kids off to school each morning with cottage cheese pita pockets, celery and hummus, sushi, couscous, leftover chop suey, and chickpea curry.
Cannons Creek School principal Ruth O'Neill said many families needed help with healthy eating, but health organisations were not coming at it the right way by recommending food that was either unaffordable - or unrecognisable.
"Hummus and cottage cheese is like a completely different world for some parents.
"A lot of the suggestions are either beyond our parents' financial means or aren't products they would normally buy.
"We say if you can manage a sandwich with a bit of meat or a spread on it, and some fruit, then that's a great start.
"It's more about getting something in the lunchbox than coming up with something fancy."
Ed Hodgkinson, principal of Lakeview School in Masterton, said getting parents to make a sandwich with a spread was a success story in itself and was all the school asked of many families.
"Many of these healthier foods, our parents would never consider and it's simply out of their price range."
Porirua mother of three Michelle Madaka said: "I wouldn't know where to find some of that stuff. I don't even know what some of it is."
She sticks to a sandwich, a piece of fruit and a small treat like popcorn when it comes to packing the school lunches.
The Heart Foundation, whose ideas are part of its "loading up the lunchbox" promotion, says they are designed around foods it would expect people to have in their homes, but it admits the suggestions are not made with everyday budgets in mind.
"We classify these foods according to their nutrient profile.
"It's not aimed at promoting affordable foods," manager of regional operations and education Darryl Bishop said.
"Sushi and couscous might not be realistic choices for some people but we're trying to show interesting things you can do with food and give people options."
But for Titahi Bay mother of four Victoria Best, affordability is the deciding factor when shopping for food.
"I give the kids a sandwich with luncheon because it's cheap, some fruit, crackers and yoghurt that I buy in a big pot and put into containers because it's cheaper."
The Dominion Post went shopping at Pak 'n Save to cost a standard lunchbox, as suggested by parents and principals, against foods from the healthy lunchbox list of the Heart Foundation.
The standard lunchbox cost $1.56 compared with $3.35 for the "healthier" options, which over the school week is the difference between $7.80 and $16.75.
Source: 2002 National Nutrition Survey of schoolchildren aged 5-14 years.
The Dominion Post