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Packing a Healthy School Lunch Box – That Your Kids Will Eat!

Back to school next week, and back to school lunches for the parents and carers! Did you know children consume around 30 per cent of their daily food intake at school?  The food in their lunch box helps children concentrate, learn and play. Clinical nutritionist Rachel Eggleton shares her top tips for packing school lunch boxes.

I just worked out that by the time my kids finish high school I will have made 4680 lunch boxes (and yes, I know they should do it, but …).
A healthy lunch box doesn’t need to be full of expensive ‘super foods’ that will get picked at – my ideas can be put together in ten minutes max.
A well-balanced lunch box should include:

  • A bottle of water (it’s nice to partially fill it and freeze it at night then top up with water in the morning)
  • A source of wholegrains (for energy and concentration) and of protein (for growing muscles). Some ideas are a wholemeal bread sandwich with some lean meat, cheese and salad, wholemeal pasta with tomato sauce and tuna, brown rice sushi with chicken and avocado, wholemeal pita with falafel or a wrap with omelette.
  • My favourite time-saver is to cook extra at dinnertime and use that for lunch – like a leftover burger patty on a wholegrain wrap with salad. Including some protein in lunch will stop the after-lunch slump. Make sure you include a chill brick to keep lunch cool.
  • Some veggies: cut-up cucumber, celery, carrot, beans, sugar snaps, cherry tomatoes. When you are chopping up veggies at dinner cut up a few more so that lunch is ready to go. Including some hummus, tzatziki or mixing in some cubed cheese or bocconcini can help get this item eaten. If you are time poor, pre-packed hummus packs can be combined with pre-chopped carrot sticks.
  • Easy-to-eat fruit such as grapes, an apple, banana or mandarin.
  • A dairy item like a milk popper, some cheese or yoghurt. With yoghurt look for one that has less than 6 g of sugar per serve (most will be from naturally occurring lactose sugar). If your kids won’t eat unsweetened yoghurt then some good options are Petit Miam tubes (5g sugar), Tamar Valley kids (4g sugar) and Calci Yum pouches (6g of sugar)
  • For a snack a small popcorn, wholemeal English muffin with jam, wholegrain Corn Thins with Vegemite

I like to put together as much as possible while I’m cooking dinner.  I also make use of the freezer for simple sandwiches and packaging up muffins, bliss balls and pikelets.

Lunchbox coming home half full?

OK, so you’ve packed a healthy lunchbox – now to make sure the contents end up being eaten! Explain to your kids that the different-coloured fruit and veggies help their brains get better at their sport/reading/music (whatever they love), the wholegrains give them energy to play and learn and the protein and dairy will keep their bones and muscles strong for running fast, jumping high, kicking a footy or doing a handstand.

Involve your kids and let them make choices.

  • Would you like an apple or a mandarin today?
  • Leftovers, wraps or crackers?
  • Cucumber and capsicum in your sandwich, or on the side?

When they come home, ask about their lunch. Did they have enough time to eat? Was it still yummy at lunchtime? Could it be held in one hand while they played?

Don’t forget when you are prepping lunch boxes to think about what you can take to work for yourself the next day too.  Constantly grabbing lunch from the food court means you are choosing a meal that has about 30 per cent more calories than what you need. Some chopped-up veggies and a small packet of nuts will help you avoid the office biscuit jar at 3pm.  You can read my guide to five easy office lunches here.

Rachel is a university qualified clinical nutritionist based in Balmain.  She is also the busy working mum of two teenagers, so is practical and realistic with her advice. Rachel offers private consultations to improve your family’s health and wellbeing. You can find her on Facebook for more healthy tips and tricks. 
m: 0450 524611

Cover image © graletta/; wrap image © Tatjana Baibakova/

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