There are many great, healthy foods in Australia, but up to 40% of all the energy in the diets of Australian children comes from junk foods and drinks. That’s too high. It means many children are eating junk foods instead of healthier choices.
What is junk food?
Junk food is unhealthy food that includes sweet drinks, lollies, chocolates, sweet snacks, chips and crisps, crunchy snack foods, biscuits, cakes, most fast foods, pies, sausage rolls, jam and honey.
The food industry prefers terms like ‘extras’ and the Australian Dietary Guidelines call junk foods ‘discretionary choices’.
What’s wrong with junk foods?
Junk foods are high in starch, sugar, saturated fat, trans fat and salt, but low in fruit, vegetables, fibre and wholegrains. This means most junk foods don’t have the nutrients — vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre — that growing children need.
How much junk food can kids eat?
Children who are overweight and not very active should avoid junk food as much as possible.
Children whose weight is about right should eat more foods from the 5 food groups than junk food. Junk foods should never take the place of healthy foods needed for growth.
Children should not get into a junk food habit. Even if your child is slim and active now, they’ll need less food when they stop growing. However, an occasional junk food treat is probably ok.
Suggested serving sizes for junk foods
If your child is having junk food occasionally, a serve of 500 to 600 kilojoules is ok. This means:
- biscuit (such as chocolate coated or caramel filling) — 1 (20g)
- biscuits, plain sweet — 2 to 3 (35g)
- cake — 1 small slice (40g)
- chocolate — 5 squares (25g)
- crackers — mini packet (25g)
- fruit drink — 250mL
- hot chips (take away) — 12 (60g)
- ice cream — 2 small scoops regular or 1 scoop of premium brands (75g)
- jam or honey — 2 tablespoons (60g)
- muesli bar — 1 average (35g)
- party pie — 1 (40g)
- popcorn — cinema, 2 cups (25 to 30g)
- potato crisps — half a snack packet (25g)
- processed meats — 2 slices (50 to 60g)
- sausages — 1½ regular or 2 thin (50 to 70g)
- sugar lollies such as jelly babies or snakes — (20 to 25g)
Those servings are probably smaller than most people give.
Lunch box tips
Here are some tips for the lunch box:
- Freeze a small plastic bottle of water to keep the lunch box cool. Glass will shatter in the freezer. Your child will have a cool drink that is better than juice or another sweet drink.
- Use cold roast meat or chicken rather than processed meat in sandwiches.
- Children don’t brush their teeth at school, so it’s best not to put sweet foods like cakes, biscuits, lollies and muesli bars in their lunch box. Pack a small container with favourite fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, melon balls, pineapple chunks or grapes. Pack the container next to frozen water bottle so it stays cold.
- Suggest to the parents of your child’s friends that none of you will put junk food in the lunch box. This avoids some children feeling they are the odd one out.
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Last reviewed: March 2022