I hear the collective sigh of parents as they face another year of School. Box. Lunches. Urgh. If only our kids would eat what we packed. If only schools gave enough time for kids to sit and actually eat. What really is the problem with the same thing every day?

Mum Laura* (*names changed for privacy reasons) came in to see me recently. She wanted to make sure she was nourishing her children in the best way possible while they were at school. Her son Ted* was more interested in lunchtime sport than eating, while daughter Amy* made her feel under pressure to give her treats every day “like the other kids”. As a result, Laura felt like her kids were actually dictating what went into the lunchbox and she was a little worried about the health impacts.

Here are a few ideas that Laura and I discussed:

Shake up the traditional menu.

A lot of kids will happily consume carbohydrate-rich foods at school. I’m talking about jam sandwiches, biscuits, rice crackers, chips. If a child has those foods at school, after toast or cereal for breakfast, they may be missing out on other foods that give them nutrients for a strong and healthy body.

So if you run with a pretty carbohydrate-heavy lunchbox, then great, but perhaps make something different for breakfast. Things like baked beans, cereal with extra nuts and seeds added, eggs (no problem if morning time is short – use pre-hardboiled eggs), a cheese and grated carrot toastie, smashed avocado and feta on toast (no need to go café fancy – just use a fork to squash ½ an avocado onto 2 slices toast and crumble on some feta).

Even leftovers from dinner. Yep. Shake it up.

Get variety from the healthy stuff.

Variety makes food interesting, right? Having the same sandwich every day and changing the “snack” food may end up with a kid loving their snacks but thinking their sandwich is a chore. What if you tried different types of sandwich instead?

Sandwich bread can be easily substituted with a wrap, mountain bread, roti, a roll, dry biscuits, or even leftovers such as pasta. Perhaps one day it channels Master Chef as a “deconstructed sandwich” i.e. plain buttered bread with small containers of other foods such as dip, sliced cucumber, pickles, a tin of tuna, leftover sliced chicken, cubed cheese.

You might even go wildly different such as dried cereal (there are several brands of bite-sized cereals around). Add a small container of yoghurt and fruit salad. Or pikelets. Kid-friendly for sure.

 Fast Food for Kids on the Run

Grab and go stuff works well for a kid that’s keen to get out and play. Try things like a rolled up wrap or whole roll or sushi handroll. Add a hard boiled egg or cheese sticks then a whole carrot or apple. Perhaps even a squeezy yoghurt.

Then fill them up with a nutritious snack after school.

 International inspiration

What about a Bento-box with little compartments of your kid’s favourite foods? A soft taco filled with grated cheese, lettuce and beans. Noodle salad. A baked potato.

Take advantage of appetite

Ted was so famished after minimal eating at school he’d come home and eat several packets of snack foods. He’d then struggle to finish dinner.

Try working out when your child is peaking with their appetite and take that opportunity to give them the foods you worry they miss out on. So for Ted, after school would be the most likely time for him to consume whatever was put in front of him. This makes it a good time for a small plate of leftovers, a smoothie filled with fresh fruit or spinach, a bowl of muesli and yoghurt, or a plate of crackers, carrot, cheese and hummus.

Other parents like to make use of the fact their child is a captive audience in terms of what they have the opportunity to eat while they are at school.

Keep it real

If you find one of these changes and are able to do it once per week, that is 20% of the school year lunch boxes. And that is pretty impressive.

Before I go, let me give you a reason to squirm in your seat with jealousy. In Sweden, cooked lunch is provided by the school. Every Day. Smaskigt.

I hope the return to school has gone well for you all.



You may also like to read:

Toddler Nutrition 101

Baby led weaning – real food from the start

Food Labelling in Australia