As many as seven in ten (71%) 11-16 year olds in Britain agree that "it is important to eat a balanced diet" and only one in ten 7-16 year olds find buying health foods a strange concept, according to a new report from Mintel.

Mintel's latest research also reveals that just 22% of children of this age find it difficult to resist eating too many sweets.

"Although the 'fat epidemic' in children is spreading and the problem of childhood obesity is widely acknowledged, it would appear that there is a clear acceptance of the basic principles of healthy eating and not overindulging among today's children. But recognising the importance of healthy eating is only half the battle, as children now need to be encouraged to put this in to practice. The message is still not getting through to all children, and there remains further scope for education," said Amanda Lintott, consumer analyst at Mintel.

Education should start in the home

However, the research also highlights a large number of parents who are uninterested in their children's lunchtime eating habits.  In fact, Mintel identifies half (50%) of mums as 'Unperturbed Parents', who take little or no interest in what their children eat for lunch. This is compared to just one in four (26%) 'Persisting Parents', who aim to give their children the best food they can. The remaining parents are 'Pampering Parents' who pander to the demands of their 'fussy' children.

While overall just two in five mothers (42%) always pack a lunch for their child or children, this falls to just one in four (25%) amongst the least concerned 'Unperturbed Parents'. This compares to an impressive 60% of 'Persisting Parents' and 55% of 'Pampering Parents'.

An apple a day keeps the chocolate away

Interestingly, chocolate is not a popular lunch box option and is included by just 13% of mothers, but may be a result of some schools actually banning chocolate. While savoury sandwiches and rolls (62%) and crisps and snacks (52%) rank as the two most popular packed lunch items, fresh fruit at 47% is the third most frequently packed food item, proving more popular than sweet biscuits (30%) and cakes at 14%. Fizzy drinks at 5% rank among the least favoured lunch choices and are far less popular than still fruit drinks (39%). Other healthier fillers include unprocessed cheese (18%), raw vegetables (10%) and dried fruit (8%).