Nutrition

Easy Ways to Pack the Best School Lunchbox

Simone Austin
Written by Simone Austin | Swisse Accredited Practising Dietitian
School lunchbox ideas

Packing a lunchbox

Let’s face it packing the lunchbox can sometimes be fun but at other times just another task and a chore to get done that we think about when it comes to back to school.

Letting kids help put the lunchbox together is a good idea, can make it more fun and something you can do together or for older children something they can do themselves, after all they are eating it.

Choice of foods

Too many choices can make the process of deciding what to pack in their lunchbox overwhelming for younger children. A couple of choices is enough for the young ones e.g. an apple or some strawberries, cheese or chicken as the protein in the sandwich. Somethings are best not to give a choice e.g. wholemeal or wholegrain bread can be what is available, rather than choosing between white and wholegrain.

Hydration

Water is the main drink, this doesn’t need a decision. Milk if it can be kept cold is a good protein option. Occasional flavoured milk in small serving sizes e.g 125ml containers is an option sometimes too, particularly if after school sport is on the program. Look for options where sugar levels and serving sizes have been kept down to meet the canteentraffic light healthy guidelines. This can be a good guide to making healthier lunchbox choices.

The number of supermarket packaged products marketed and designed to be lunch box items can make life confusing and provide too many choices. What should I put in or not? To make things easier limiting the number of packaged foods in the lunchbox at one time can help. If using them read ingredient lists and look for items that have plenty of nutrients in them e.g. fruit, grains, vegetables with minimal added sugar, saturated fat and salt.

Finding Balance

For growing bodies eating a variety of foods is important to provide a range of nutrients. The Department of Health and Human Services has come up with a handy guide to help pick foods from the different food groups, ‘Pick and Mix 1-6’. This is a good place to start and can be used as a checklist with ideas for the lunch box. Try to choose some foods from each section if possible.

  1. Fruit (e.g. fresh, frozen, pureed and canned in natural juice)
  2. Vegetables, legumes and beans
  3. Milk, yoghurt, cheese and alternatives
  4. Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
  5. Grain (cereal) foods
  6. Plain water

Go for a colourful lunchbox with a mix of fruit and vegetables. Cutting them up into a container allows you to have a small amount of a range of foods, makes them easy to eat and it looks more appealing. Fruit that needs peeling for example such as oranges will often be left as it can all be too hard!

Keep it practical

Kids want to play. If an apple is going to take too long to eat, when play time has come around the chances are it will be left behind. Cutting fruit up or choosing small sized fruit can help here.

Containers and lunchboxes need to be easy to open. If they can’t be accessed easily that is cutting into valuable play time. At the same time, they need to seal well. There is nothing worse than watermelon juice all over you books and bag!

Easy meal prep

Homemade and fresh is great, but not always possible. Baking some muffins or mini quiches in big batches and freezing means homemade are available.

Cutting sandwiches into half or even quarters means you can eat half at first lunch or recess if you are hungry and leave the rest until later. Even sandwiches can be made in advance and frozen with the fresh ingredients such as lettuce and carrot added fresh.

Cooler bags are great for summer. If food is not appealing by lunchtime it is unlikely to be eaten. A frozen water bottle or frozen fruit cubes can keep it nice and cool.

A Simple Checklist

  1. Insulated lunch box that can be open easily
  2. Containers to minimise plastic wrap
  3. Water bottle
  4. Recipes for home made additions e.g. muffins, quiches, fruit scones, slices
  5. Routine decided: who and when will lunch be made, who will pack the lunchbox

There is no perfect lunchbox so no need to compete. Enjoy including new foods with your children and try modelling a nourishing lunchbox too. The lunchbox is there to provide good fuel, fun and a social time of enjoying food whilst eating with others!