The top 4 snacks consumed by children

14/04/2015 Help for Parents

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2011-12, 25% of children in Australia were overweight or obese. (1)

A high intake of ‘discretionary’ food, otherwise known as junk food, is undoubtedly a significant contributor to this alarming statistic. Discretionary food is high in kilojoules, saturated fat, added sugars and/or added salt.

With an average of just over one third of total daily energy coming from discretionary foods, children are at significant risk of diet-related diseases such as obesity.

Unsurprisingly, the top four snacks consumed by children (2) all fall under the discretionary food category. They are:

  1. Cakes, muffins, scones and cake-type desserts
  2. Biscuits
  3. Confectionery and cereal/nut/fruit/seed bars
  4. Soft drinks and flavoured mineral waters.

When choosing packaged snacks (and drinks), here’s what to keep an eye out for…

A lot of the time, discretionary food is logically unhealthy. Think cakes, lollies, chips and soft drink. Government website Eat for Health has more information on discretionary food and the Australian Dietary Guidelines has a handy table on how to understand food labels.

It’s a combination of thinking healthy, plus keeping in mind what constitutes discretionary food and drink, that will help you the next time you’re looking at buying a few snacks at the supermarket.

Use the below rules as a very general guide (3), keeping in mind that some food and drink is very hard to classify and categorise:

  • All soft drink and confectionery is considered discretionary
  • 99% fruit juice in small serves (200ml or less) is okay but juice drinks should be limited (as they generally contain added sugar)
  • All milk-based drinks are considered to be non-discretionary, and make up part of the dairy and alternatives core food group. This includes flavoured milks and those made up from dry powders such as hot chocolate powder
  • Just because a product appears in the health food aisle, does not mean it is a healthy option and it may belong in the discretionary food category, e.g. muesli bars and ‘sugar free’ products
  • One serve of a discretionary food is equivalent to 600kJ (energy). Refer to the Australian Dietary Guidelines for information regarding recommended serves of discretionary food and drink for your child.


1. & 2. 4364.0.55.007 – Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results – Foods and Nutrients, 2011-12;, accessed 8 April 2015.

3. 4363.0.55.001 – Australian Health Survey: Users’ Guide, 2011-13;, accessed 8 April 2015.