School lunches cost an average of around $25 per child each week, according to new research.

The study, drawing on data from over 1,000 children aged 4-12 years in New South Wales, shows the challenges families face in balancing cost, nutrition, and convenience in their children's school meals.

“Eating well at school is key for children’s growth, learning and development, with schooltime food consumption making up one-third of dietary intake,” says Alexandra Manson, a PhD candidate at Flinders University and a dietitian.

The study found that healthier lunchbox options generally cost less - ranging between $3 and $6 per child per day. 

Despite this, the study highlights the broader issue of food affordability, with many families opting for more expensive convenience choices amidst rising living costs.

The study, published in Health Promotion International, indicates that food and beverage costs have surged by over 20 per cent since 2017, exacerbating the financial strain on families already grappling with higher expenses for household bills, school fees, and uniforms. 

Dr Brittany Johnson, co-author of the study, has called for more systemic support for families, saying; “Ensuring tasty, healthy, affordable choices are readily available in and around schools would be a great start”.

The research team is exploring the potential of school-provided meals in Australia, a model that could offer a safety net for all families. 

With one in two children globally benefiting from school-provided meals, this approach could significantly ease the lunchbox burden for families while ensuring children have access to healthy food daily.

Furthermore, the study reveals a stark reality: the cost of a child's lunchbox is significantly influenced by the proportion of unhealthy foods it contains. 

Families in lower socio-economic areas are particularly affected, highlighting the need for interventions that address both the economic and nutritional aspects of school lunches.

The full study is accessible here.