‘Tuck-shop Truths’ study reveals poor nutritional offerings

Fizzy drinks and potato chips are the top sellers in primary school tuck shops – a key finding in the ‘Tuck-shop Truths’ survey, commissioned this June by Nestlé South Africa to discover the attitudes and behaviours around primary school tuck shop usage.

Bateleur Brand Planning conducted the study, on behalf of the company, to obtain a clear understanding of what children in primary schools are eating, the food they have access to and the factors that influence the food options that are offered to them in school tuck shops.

It involved an audit of tuck shops’ stocks at 20 private primary schools in Gauteng and interviewing the opinions of the operators. It then conducted 652 online national interviews with mothers, who have children aged between 6-12 years attending a government or private school. The mothers had access to the internet.

Results indicate poor nutrition

“The results revealed that the majority of children are consuming fizzy, fattening, fun and frivolous food at school – not good news when you consider that they spend a big portion of their day there and that nutrient deficiencies can lead to health problems later in life,” says Naazneen Khan, nutrition, health and wellness manager at Nestlé South Africa.

The audit at the private schools surveyed revealed that the following are best sellers:

  • Baked goods – toasted bread (55% of tuck shops claim this is a best seller), garlic bread (50%) and pies (40%);
  • Cold beverages – fizzy beverages (75%), iced tea (55%) and flavoured water (35%);
  • Dairy products – hot chocolate (56%), frozen yoghurt (56%) and ice cream (44%);
  • Food snacks/sandwiches – hot dogs (53%), cheese sandwiches (47%) and chicken mayonnaise sandwiches (47%);
  • Meals – spaghetti bolognaise (64%), pizza (36%), macaroni and cheese (27%), homemade pie (27%) and curry and rice (27%);
  • Snacks – chips (75%), popcorn (55%) and sweets (55%)

Overall, the audit revealed that the best sellers are fizzy cold drinks (75%) and chips (75%). Moms are fully aware of this, believing that fizzy cold drinks, chips, sweets, chocolate and hot dogs are the five items purchased most often. Yet, 80% of parents give their children on average R10 to spend at the school tuck-shop each day. More alarming, Khan notes, is the fact that 36% of moms interviewed did not know who decides what should be sold at school tuck shops.

Parents should teach healthy eating habits

Although only 5% of tuck shop operators believe that the pupils eat healthily and 30% agree that they eat ‘far too much junk food’, it seems that little effort is being made to encourage healthier choices. For example, only 30% of the tuck shops surveyed sell fresh fruit, despite it being requested and only 28% sell fresh milk. Other healthier choices requested but not stocked by the operators include biltong, wraps and avocado sandwiches.

Some of the tuck shops indicated that they have made an effort to sell healthier foods but that they have found that the children are not interested in them. They believe that it starts at home – that it is the responsibility of parents to teach their children healthy eating habits.

A number of operators have indicated that they offer healthier alternatives during first break and confectionery at second break or only sell fizzy drinks and sweets after school. Others have commented that children do not buy healthy snacks and that a solution would be to offer interesting, good tasting and healthy items for kids to choose from.

Mothers try hard

Of all the childhood health concerns, not accomplishing a balanced diet is top of the list for moms. The study reveals that 98% of mothers are addressing their health concerns for their children by giving them balanced meals that are healthy, although 86% of mothers surveyed say that they feel their children are not receiving a balanced diet.

Most of the respondents were full-time working moms with two children, who have their kids at school by 7.30am. This could make preparing a packed lunchbox challenging but 76% do manage to pack one every day. With the top five items included in lunchboxes being sandwiches, fresh fruit, fruit juice, water and sweets, moms are doing well, but there is still some room for improvement.

“Lunchboxes form an important part of a balanced meal plan and healthy lunchboxes ensure that children are receiving essential nutrients and the recommended kilojoules to sustain their energy levels, alertness and focus during the school day,” says Khan.

Mothers interviewed said that improvements to the current tuck-shop offering could include healthier products that appeal to children (68%), that tuck-shops sell unhealthy items occasionally as a treat (22%) and that tuck-shops offer a wider variety (22%).

Lunchbox tips

To provide children with the daily nutrition they require, a healthy lunchbox can include:

  • Starchy foods such as bread, rice, potatoes or pasta. Use brown, wholegrain or seeded bread or rolls, rice or corn cakes, whole-wheat crisp bread or pap from the night before as alternatives.
  • Lean proteins such as tuna, boiled eggs, beef, chicken or even leftover mince or stew can make for great sandwich fillers.
  • Reduced fat dairy such as low fat yoghurt, reduced fat cheese or low fat milk. Ensure these are kept chilled whether in a cooler bag or alongside a frozen water bottle.
  • Fruit and vegetables such as strawberries, apple slices, grapes, carrot sticks or cherry tomatoes. Fruit is easy to pack and raw veggies such as cucumber, celery or lettuce work well as a snack or on a sandwich.
  • Water to keep them hydrated. As children often prefer flavoured drinks, try adding cordial o/r squash to their water but try to avoid highly coloured and artificially-sweetened options.


“With nearly a quarter of parents not sending their children to school with a packed lunchbox every day and therefore relying on the tuck shop to provide their food and drink, the need for quality, healthy and nutritious foods to be supplied by tuck shops is evident,” says Khan.

“Parents and tuck shop operators need to work together to help children make better choices. This can only be done through a joint approach of educating children about healthier choices, encouraging them to make better choices and stocking nutritious food.”

Some of the recommendations for improvement made by the tuck shop operators include stocking a variety of dairy products like cheese and fresh milk, cold meats and sausages, fresh and dried fruit, home cooked meals and healthier fillings for sandwiches. Some also expressed the need to market to parents to make them aware of the healthy options available, but only 7% of moms indicated that they want to be told about healthy options.

One point that both parents and tuck shop operators did agree on is that there should be a greater variety of appealing, healthy food available for children.

“As a food company, Nestlé strives to provide tastier and healthier choices to consumers and through its product testing framework, it continually improves the taste and nutritional value of its products,” says Khan.

Methodology, use of survey

The company, in partnership with the Department of Basic Education (DBE), delivers its Nestlé Healthy Kids Programme to primary school children in South Africa. The objective of the programme, which is targeted at primary school pupils, teachers, food handlers and parents, is to raise nutrition, health and wellness awareness among school-going children through nutritional education and the promotion of regular physical activity.

“The Nestlé Tuck-shop Truths study forms part of this initiative and we intend to use the information gleaned from this study to assist us in building a healthy nation,” concludes Khan.

The study surveyed a small sample size of private school tuck shops in Gauteng and interviewed a small national sample size of mothers with children at private and government schools and can therefore not be indicative of the stock and consumption patterns at all tuck shops throughout the country as some schools may get it right.

For more information, go to www.nestle.co.za.