Keeping School Lunchboxes Simple


Nutrition & Healthy Lifestyle Expert Dr Joanna McMillan can hear your sighs as you embark on another year of school lunches. In this article she helps you to prepare easy and healthy lunches to help your kids concentrate and have energy for their school day. 

As Aussie kids head back to school we’re finding that parents are struggling to decide what they should be stocking their children’s lunchboxes with, which causes enormous stress to parents that goes on for years! Every school morning decisions have to be made, compromises reached and usually in a rush the lunchbox is complete. So we thought we’d throw in our two cents worth and hopefully give you a few ideas to make this far easier.

1. Start with deciding what the main event will be; the most common option is a sandwich, but there are plenty of other substitutes. The first part of the meal must include a healthy slow release carbohydrate, for example, wholegrain bread or wrap, pasta, brown rice or quinoa to fuel their brains and provide the energy to exercise. You then must include a protein-rich food; this could be cold meat, fish, hardboiled egg, cheese, tofu or beans/chickpeas, which will provide amino acids for growth and development. Just as important is the inclusion of a healthy fat such as avocado, hummus, olive oil, oily fish, tahini or olive oil mayo. If you can manage to get a few vegetables in there- perfect, but don’t stress too much over this. Some ideas include:

    • Wholegrain wrap with leftover roast chicken, hummus and shredded lettuce.

    • Wholegrain wrap with shredded chicken mixed with grated apple and a little olive oil mayo.

    • Brown rice salad with canned tuna, corn, diced capsicum and olive oil vinaigrette.

    • Quinoa with chickpeas, diced cucumber, cherry tomatoes, sultanas and olive oil vinaigrette.

    • Wholegrain wrap with falafel, hummus and shredded lettuce.

    • Pasta with parmesan, canned tuna and beans, drizzled with olive oil.

    • Wholegrain sandwich with egg mayo.

    • Potato salad with hard boiled eggs, canned tuna, olives and peas.

2. Add one or two pieces of fruit. Packaged products, even if they say made from 100% fruit, are not the same as fresh whole fruit. You can buy excellent holders for bananas to stop them from becoming a bashed soggy mess in the lunchbox, or chop up an apple into slices and seal them in a zip lock bag. To prevent the apples from browning, try squeezing some orange or lemon juice over the fruit. You could fill a small container with grapes, cherries or berries, or pop in a pre peeled orange. If you’re in a rush, the next best thing is the ready packs of fruit. The processing will result in the some nutrient loss, but at least the fruit is still whole and they are convenient. View the 100% fruit products as healthier alternatives to lollies and as such they are not every day foods.

3. Add a dairy food or a dairy alternative with added calcium. Kids have a high requirement for this mineral and unfortunately many are falling short. Dairy foods are one of the best sources of calcium, so unless your child has an intolerance or allergy ensure you add a dairy option in their lunch boxes every day. A fantastic idea is to freeze drinking yoghurts, this ensures the entire lunchbox stays cool, but are defrosted enough by lunchtime. Other ideas include popping in a carton of yoghurt, a mini cheese such as Babybel or simply a chunk of cheese with the sliced apple.

4. Add a snack for recess. Some ideas for a recess snack include small bags of popcorn; carrot sticks with a mini tub of hummus, a homemade fruit or savory muffin, a small slice of banana bread, or a carefully chosen cereal bar (look for wholegrain, low added refined sugar and a natural list of ingredients).

5. Finally make sure they have a BPA-free bottle of water. Giving them a bottle of fresh water will ensure they stay away from sugary drinks such as juices, cordial and soft drinks.

So long as you ensure you don’t get too overly complicated with your food choices, and ensure you limit the amount of processed food and ‘junk’ food you give your children, you’ll be amazed at how easy it becomes, and how much your children will benefit from a healthy, nutritious lunchbox. Healthy and nutritious foods help children concentrate at school and assists in brain function, as well as giving them sufficient amounts of energy to keep them going all day. If we teach our kids the importance of eating well, we are setting them up for a bright and healthy future.

Disclaimer: This article provides general advice only. Readers should seek independent professional advice from their general practitioner or dietitian in relation to their own individual circumstances or condition before making any decisions based on the information in this article.