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Let’s Look at Lunches

Northern NSW Local Health District
Project Added:
12 July 2016
Last updated:
26 July 2016

Let’s Look at Lunches


This project used email newsletters and social media to engage parents and carers, with recipes, tips and information on healthy lunchboxes.

This project was presented at the Rural Innovations Changing Healthcare Forum 2016.

Watch a video and view the presentation for this event.


To provide parents of childcare and school age children with increased access to information about healthy lunch foods, through technology that is used and accepted by this group.


  • Improves the nutritional content of children’s lunchboxes.
  • Increases the awareness and importance of healthy lunchboxes among parents and carers.
  • Reduces the risk of chronic disease through an improved diet.
  • Engages parents and carers through digital marketing channels such as social media and email newsletters, which are accessible and relevant to this target group.
  • Improves food literacy in parents and carers of children.
  • Eliminates geographical boundaries and extends participation to people unable to attend face-to-face events. Obesity is a global issue and social media has the capacity to reach national and international populations.
  • Reduces the time and costs associated with face-to-face events, with the ability to share the same information to more people via social media.


Childhood obesity is a significant public health problem, with about one in four Australian children overweight or obese1. It increases the risk of chronic disease and the risk of becoming an overweight or obese adult by up to 50%2. However, childhood obesity is largely preventable through an improved diet.

Research shows that up to 50% of a child’s diet is eaten at primary school or in childcare centres6. The habits formed in these early years of development can shape a child’s relationship with food and impact their health for many years to come.

Research has identified a number of barriers that prevent parents and carers from packing a healthy lunchbox for their children. These include:

  • a lack of recipe ideas
  • myths and confusion around what’s healthy and what’s not
  • fussy eating by their child
  • a lack of time to shop or prepare healthy lunchboxes
  • the cost of healthy versus unhealthy foods
  • a lack of awareness about the importance of nutrition
  • a lack of support from other parents or services3.

Despite these barriers, parents and carers want to provide healthy lunches for their child and get information on how to pack healthy lunchboxes6.

There is evidence that in Australia, only one percent of all lunchboxes are healthy4, 5. It was anticipated that addressing the above barriers and encouraging parents to pack healthy lunchboxes would lead to behaviour change and improve the health of children.  


  • A fortnightly enewsletter was created and distributed to over 1500 parents, teachers and early childhood educators who subscribed via text message, email or an online form. It commenced in February 2015 and features recipes, tips from nutrition experts and competitions. The enewsletter encourages readers to increase their child’s fruit and vegetable intake, choose healthier snacks and drink water. Research on barriers to packing healthy lunchboxes and health myths (such as ‘packaged snacks are cheaper’) is used to inform content. Social share options mean that parents, carers and services can share articles and promote the newsletter to their networks.
  • An Instagram profile was developed in May 2015, to share visual images and inspiration for healthy lunchboxes. The social media page is promoted in newsletters sent to schools and childcare centres, as well as fortnightly enewsletters. A broader audience is reached through the use of popular hashtags including #healthy, #yum and #kids.
  • Existing partnerships with childcare centres and schools were used to build a subscriber base for the project. Parents and carers were invited to subscribe to the enewsletter, which was promoted while staff were attending scheduled site visits.  
  • The enewsletter and Instagram page are both interactive in nature. Email subscribers can engage with content in the ‘Ask an Expert’ sections, regular competitions and feedback channels. Consumers can comment or ask questions on images featured on the Instagram page, as well as share their own healthy lunch ideas and images using the hashtag #lookatlunches.

Lets look at lunches newsletter, suggestions for running late and five minutes

lets look at lunches newsletter, comparison of costs of pre-packaged vs self-prepared snacks.

Implementation status

  • Sustained - the initiative has been implemented and is sustained in standard business.

Key dates

  • February 2015 – June 2016

Implementations sites

The program is run within NNSWLHD, however it is promoted by other local health districts in NSW and available to subscribers nationally and internationally.


  • Health promotion teams within NSW local health districts
  • Schools in NNSWLHD
  • Childcare centres in NNSWLHD
  • North Coast Primary Health Network
  • Child and family health professionals in NNSWLHD


  • Newsletter subscriptions increased from 82 in February 2015 to 1585 in May 2016.
  • Newsletter opens increased from 164 in February 2015 to 1420 in February 2016.
  • A subscriber survey conducted December 2015 found that:
  • 51% reported packing more vegetables in their child’s lunchboxes
  • 94% reported that the enewsletter inspired them to provide healthier lunches for their children
  • 51% reported packing a healthier lunchbox
  • less than 10% of subscribers made no changes to their child’s lunchboxes
  • many subscribers reported adding more fruit and vegetables and less sugary foods to their child’s lunchboxes, as well as packing healthier snacks and 
  • increasing the variety of foods in their child’s lunchboxes.
  • More than half of all enewsletters had a click-through rate of 150-200. The most popular articles were links to recipes, followed by articles and social media links to nutrition information.
  • In June 2016, 26% of enewsletter subscribers were from outside NNSWLHD.
  • Instagram followers increased from 0 in May 2015 to 224 in June 2016.
  • Engagement on Instagram was measured by the number of likes received. In February 2016, posts on the @lookatlunches page had 1500 likes and nearly 100 comments. However, the audience reach is likely to be significantly higher than this, as content is publically accessible and can be viewed by people who do not follow the page.

lets look at lunches instagram food example photos

Lessons learnt

  • Social media is an effective way of engaging with communities that span a vast geographical distance.
  • Staff time is better spent developing enewsletter and social media content, rather than hosting face-to-face events, as they have a broader reach and are less time consuming.
  • Social media is a great platform to facilitate consumer engagement and allow consumers to drive subject content.
  • The communication strategy is transferable across other health domains.


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. National Health Survey: First Results, 2014-15. Canberra: Australian Government.
  2. Gill TP, Baur LA, Bauman AE et al. Childhood obesity in Australia remains a widespread health concern that warrants population-wide prevention programs. Medical Journal of Australia 2009; 190(3): 146-148.  
  3. Patterson J, Heffner J, Killcoyne L et al. Lunch packing for preschoolers in child care: parent’s needs assessment and newsletter evaluation. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 2008; 40(4): S46.
  4. Evans C, Greenwood D, Thomas J et al. A cross-sectional survey of children's packed lunches in the UK: food and nutrient based results. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health 2010; 64(11): 977-83.
  5. Vickery, K. Kids’ Lunches Revealed: Foodbank WA warns of lunchbox dangers. News Corp Australia: Perth Now; 1 March 2014.
  6. Bathgate K, Begley, A. It’s very hard to find what to put in the kid’s lunch: what Perth parents think about food for school lunch boxes. Nutrition & Dietetics 2011; 68(1): 21-26.


Maxine Molyneux
Health Promotion Officer
Northern NSW Local Health District 
Phone: 02 6639 9142

To subscribe to the Let’s Look at Lunches enewsletter, please send your name, email address and postcode to or follow @lookatlunches on Instagram.

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