Heart attack in a lunchbox – is this your child's school snack?

MOVE over deep-fried Mars Bar, here comes the Munchy Box. A pizza box stuffed with as much as 2,200 calories-worth of assorted fast food has emerged as the latest lunchtime treat for Scotland's schoolchildren.

The boxes sell for 4 to 5, can contain as much as 150 grams of artery-clogging fat, and typically include doner meat, chips, cheese, pakora and – if you're lucky – a token smattering of salad.

Officials in Glasgow are so concerned by lunchtime sales of the boxes to children that they are buying samples to test for nutritional content and will use the results to attempt to badger fast food sellers into changing recipes and portion sizes.

"It is my understanding this is not an uncommon lunch for some kids," said one source at the council, which is desperately trying to ditch its "junk food city" image for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Munchy Boxes are a well-established evening treat for grown-ups but reports of lunchtime sales to children have proved too much for council officials.

One spot check on a Munchy Box revealed it contained 136 grams of fat – close to what a normal teenager should be consuming in two days rather than one dinner – and 1,224 calories. A box purchased by this newspaper was estimated to contain in excess of 140 grams of fat and as many as 2,200 calories.

"It's safe to say it's not a particularly healthy lunch," said Gary Walker, who heads Glasgow City Council's Scientific Services, the laboratory that has been testing "alternative school lunches" from a dozen or so council areas across the west of Scotland.

"You would be talking about 10 grams of salt here alone. You are eating something that is heavy in fat and heavy in saturated fat."

Walker is one of Scotland's eight public analysts, certified scientists who work with everybody from trading standards officials to the police.

He stressed that authorities would not sit idly by and watch Munchy Boxes become a playground staple. But officials will face an uphill struggle convincing businesses to change their ways.

Takeaways contacted by Scotland on Sunday declined to comment. Staff at one outlet serving children from a suburban secondary school said they would only usually make a Munchy Box to special request. A worker at an outlet in Glasgow City Centre said Munchy Boxes were aimed at office workers rather than children. Others blamed rivals for the practice.

School dinners are strictly regulated with limits on how much fat, sugar and salt they contain. There are no such rules for takeaways near schools.

Nutritionist Carina Norris said such rules would be "wonderful from a public health point of view" but added "nobody would stand for them from a personal freedom point of view".

She and other experts suspect dangerous trans fats are used in some takeaway deep fryers, but there is no way for the customer to know.

Scottish children were last year named as among the fattest in the world. One in five Scottish five-year-olds is overweight. Quality school lunches are supposed to be the weapon in the fight against childhood obesity.

Ultimately, authorities in Glasgow aim to get as many children as possible back into the school dining hall, where meals are healthier than ever before. So healthy, in fact, that some cynics believed youngsters are shunning them for burger vans, bakeries and Munchy Boxes from the local kebab shop.

The council's response has been to cap the cost of meals at 1.15 for the past three years and issue reward points for healthy eaters, with typical prizes including cinema tickets. Some children have chalked up enough nourishing meals to earn themselves new iPods.

Meanwhile, Norris is currently crunching numbers from a study of what 11 and 12-year-olds in Fife eat when they "graze" the street during their lunch hours.

On average youngsters were consuming 36 grams of sugar, twice the recommended maximum for a whole day and way beyond what would be legal in a school dinner. She said: "A lot of children are buying 'meal deals', a jumbo sausage roll, a fudge donut and a fizzy drink – hardly what we'd recommend for a child's school-day lunch, as it's extremely high in calories, fat and sugar, not to mention low in nutrients and fibre, with not a portion of fruit or veg in sight."

Norris found one child consuming nine times her daily allowance in salt in a single lunchtime.

Another had nine times the daily limit for sugar in her lunch and several were four times above the recommendation for saturated fats.

What's inside


CONTAINS: Cheese and tomato pizza, one slice. 75g

Garlic bread, one slice. 30g

Three vegetable pakora, double deep-fried. Total 100g

Three chicken pakora, double deep-fried. Total 90g

Doner meat, lashed with kebab sauce. 150g

Chips, one portion. 160g

Salad, mostly limp lettuce and freshly cut onion rings. 50g

Tomato sauce. 80g

Calories: 2,218kcal

Total fat: 148.3g

Saturated fat: 38.9g

Sugar: 53.2g

Salt: 12.45g

For an adult male, this is:

87% of recommended daily calories; 148% of recommended daily fat intake; 123% of recommended daily saturated fat intake; 72% of recommended daily sugar intake; 207% of recommended daily salt intake

For a teenage girl, this is:

116% of recommended calorie intake; 197% of fat;

98% of sugar; 207% of salt

Nutrient standards for school lunch (secondary schools)

Calories: no more than 664kcal

Total fat: no more than 25.8g

Saturated fat: no more than 8.1g

Sugar: no more than 19.5g

Salt: no more than 2.23g

Calculations: nutritionist Carina Norris