Youthrive Integrated Therapy Services

Youthrive Integrated Therapy Services

By Melanie Bouras, Senior Dietician at Youthrive


Knowing what to put in your child’s lunchbox can often be one of the most daunting tasks. Particular when you have a child with restricted eating behaviours due to Autism, ADHD, anxiety and sensory sensitivities, for example.

The key is, and easier said than done – Is not to over think the school lunchbox. When your child first starts prep or recommences for the year, no doubt they will be feeling anxious and apprehensive, which can affect their appetite in a negative way. Often parents report that in the first weeks back at school; their child may go all day without eating or only pick at their lunchbox. Therefore, with this in mind, let’s start by packing a lunchbox with only four foods your child enjoys. Four food items may not seem like a lot of food to you and me, but for your picky eater, four foods is more than enough. We must be careful not to overwhelm our children with too many food choices in the school lunchbox. Less is best, when you have a picky and anxious little eater. There is nothing worse, than your child bringing home a full lunchbox, because they were overwhelmed by a lunchbox bursting at the seams. To summarise, your child may be feeling anxiety commencing school, anxiety suppresses appetite, and an overcrowded lunchbox can cause further anxiety and prevent a child from eating well at school.

Therefore, when creating a school lunchbox think of four foods your child enjoys from the Five-core food groups. Below are examples of food from the five core food groups:

  1. Grains: Bread OR Crackers OR Popcorn OR Pasta/ rice OR Savory muffin OR Pinwheels
  2. Dairy: Yoghurt OR Cheese OR Milk popper
  3. Fruit: Fresh or Dried fruit
  4. Vegetables: Raw carrot OR tinned Corn (example)
  5. Protein: Boiled Egg OR Tin of Tuna OR Sliced ham OR Roast chicken pieces OR Hummus

If your child does not like to eat sandwiches or wraps, do not stress about this. A deconstructed lunchbox is perfectly fine. Also, if you are worried about dairy products and meat products during the summer months, consider purchasing an insulted lunchbox that contains an ice pack to keep foods cool.

When packing the school lunchbox, involve your child in this task, and ask them what food(s) they would like in their lunchbox. Your child may need some guidance choosing foods from the five core food groups, and may request tiny teddy’s or chippies. Gently explain that they need to pick some everyday foods, and then once a week they can have their treat food. You may decide your child can have a treat food multiple times per week, however, please be mindful that treat foods should not displace every day foods. Your little one is growing and developing, and therefore their little bodies are craving nutrient dense foods. You may also, have a child that only eats ‘junk food’ due to extreme food aversions, try your best to offer healthier ‘packet’ foods such as; popcorn, sultanas, cheese stringers, crackers, rice wheels  for example.

Below is a visual of lunchbox foods, hopefully these images will inspire you to create a nourishing but simple lunchbox for your little one.

Pick Four food items from the above table to create a school lunchbox

Below is an example: