There is a tonne of pressure on parents these days to provide endless healthy lunchbox options, package free, sugar free, preservative free and colourful (insert eye roll).
For those without mad kitchen skills, or who just do not want to spend precious weekends prepping lunchbox or for those who have a fussy eater this can be anxiety inducing. My own child’s childcare has spoken to me about my daughter’s lack of love for fruit and I’ll never forget the day when her dad packed his nut bar into her bag by mistake and I received a not- so-happy letter back from her teachers (cringe!)
Some variety is important, if you yourself had the exact same lunch everyday you would also get bored. However, you need to think about your child, not about impressing your child’s teachers or other parents. What does your child eat at home? Do they rotate between 2-3 options? There is no reason you cannot rotate between the same options for school. If you believe the options your child is having at home are not suitable for school check out the remainder of this guide and see if there’s an alternative your child might like or perhaps consider seeing a dietitian to work on your child’s intake.
Test it Out
Make sure your child can work their lunch box, containers, zip lock bags and water bottles before they start school. Pack a trial lunch box of the exact foods you would pack for school and offer it to them at morning tea, Lunch, and afternoon tea. Take note of what foods are rejected and if they had any difficulties opening any of their foods or if they ask for more food.
Fruit Break/ Crunch n Sip
This one is obvious to most, but for those who’s kids are fruit and veggie adverse here are some alternatives at fruit break:
- Dried fruit- think sultanas, dried apricots, apple pieces. Dried fruit bars may also be acceptable
- Diced fruit cups in natural juices or puree fruit pouches
- Mini corn cobs
- Date and coconut balls
- Fruit puree pouches
If your child dislikes fruit, try chopping up a small amount of fruit in a small container but also serving with some cubed cheese or mini rice wheels, or yoghurt in a small container. This continues your childs exposure to fruit and educators can see that fruit is being offered even if not yet accepted. Always discuss options with your childs educators- yours isn’t the only fussy child they have come across and while exposure to foods that are not yet accepted is important, so is your child’s tummy being full.
The Main Event
If your child loves mini sushi rolls, falafel and tofu that’s great! Pack away. However, there is nothing wrong with going back to basics for lunch, as mentioned before- pack what they normally eat.
Cold or Room Temperature Options
- Sandwiches/wraps/ bread rolls. Ground-breaking I know but nothing wrong with a sandwich, cut the crusts of if needed or create fancy shapes if you wish. Fillings should include a source of protein ideally to ensure it is filling. Think chicken, turkey, ham, tuna, boiled egg, vegemite and cheese, or falafel for a plant based option.
- Corn thins/ Rice cakes/rye cruskits/Multigrain Saladas with the same toppings as above
- Pizza scrolls/ vegemite and cheese scrolls- we have a delicious and very easy recipe for these on our blog!
- Mac and cheese cups / zucchini slice /egg slice, again check out the blog!
- Sushi rolls
- French toast
There are great hot food jars readily available now from woolworths to kmart:
- Baked beans: salt reduced or homemade
- Spaghetti, again salt and sugar reduced tinned or home-made
- Noodles (I would consider this an occasional choice) add veggies or tuna to improve the nutritional value.
- Pasta dishes e.g. tuna bake, mac and cheese
Is your child more of a snacker? Ensure you pack 2-3 snack foods to cover the “Lunch meal” in addition to snacks for snack breaks. Good snack foods for lunch:
- Boiled egg
- Cheese sticks
- Small serves of the above- ¼ sandwich, small serve of zucchini slice
- Crackers with cheese
- Savoury muffins: egg based or pasta based
- Dip with veggie sticks or crackers
- Cold cuts of meat such as ham or turkey with crackers
Take note of how many afternoon snacks your child normally has if their lunch is consumed. Usually 2-3 options is enough, Remember often they are finished by 3.30-4pm and will likely have a snack after school. If headed to after school care, pack additional.
Pikelets- there are so many simple recipes out there consisting of little more than some flour, banana and yoghurt. Fruit is always a great addition to pikelets.
- Date and coconut balls
- Homemade muesli bars
- Air popped popcorn- popped from kernels.
- Muffin- savoury or sweet
- Hommus or dip with crackers
- Cut up fruit and or vegetables
This is what we know you want to know, which packaged snacks are ok? I love a good packaged snack because like most of you I work full time and don’t want to spend all of my precious weekends baking. I think no more than 2x packaged snacks, keeping options such as chips to a sometimes choice and opting for dairy and whole grain-based snacks most often.
In no particular order:
- Cheese: bega stringers, baby bell, cheese and crackers
- Muesli bars- oat based
- Fruit cups
- Dry cereal
- Dried fruit balls
- Dried fruit
- Individual plain milks tetrapacks
- Veggie chips
- Roasted Fava beans/chickpeas
- Crackers/ rice wheels
- Other low sugar bars
Key Take Home:
- Variety is important but let your child guide this, offer 2-3 different lunch options on rotation if they are happy and eating what is offered don’t overthink this
- Get your child involved in helping pack the lunchbox, you choose what goes into the trolley primarily and let your child help which foods are packed each day.
- Don’t be afraid to add a small serve of a fun or treat food to the lunchbox, kids respond well to this and it will promote a healthy relationship with all foods.
- Try to include a source of protein at the lunch meal for the tummy filling factor.
- Test out lunchboxes at home, see what works and what doesn’t.
- If you are removing packaging from snacks, don’t buy snack foods that come individually wrapped, buy in larger serves to save on packaging e.g. popcorn and cheese.
- Just because a bento box has 6 or so compartments, don’t think you have to fill them!
By Caitlin Mannion, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Mum.