It’s as easy as A B C. Lunch box ideas for healthy kids

Many of us have experienced the demoralising sight of a virtually untouched lunch at the end of the school day. As we head towards the final weeks of Term 3, it’s time to check-in and get inspired with some fresh recipes to get kids involved and interested in both cooking and eating – especially when they’re at school. This week, School Stream is taking a look at lunchbox friendly food that is both nutritious and delicious. Because the two need not be mutually exclusive.

We know you’re busy. Click here to see how School Stream can help your school streamline parent communication or read on for school lunch box suggestions.

An important note before we begin

Nutrition doesn’t exist in a bubble. Factors that can affect food choices include income, transport, location and storage. A family’s cultural background can also influence the kind of food that is packed in a child’s lunchbox. Check out the eye-opening visuals of typical school lunches around the world (scroll down for images) to see what this looks like in action. So in short; we’re all doing our best – there will be no finger-waggling here. 

What do kids need to eat?

There is so much noise around food. In between all the trends and media coverage, it can be hard to know where to turn for information that is up-to-date and based on scientific evidence and research. Enter: The Australian Dietary Guidelines. In terms of food intake, the guidelines advocate for a diet rich in unprocessed foods and what is often referred to as ‘wholefoods’. This includes:

  • Plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables of different types and colours
  • Wholegrain/fibre-rich grains and cereals like breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, oats and barley
  • Lean meats/poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds, legumes/beans
  • Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives
  • Plenty of water

A standard serve of vegetables is about 75g and it is recommended that children aged 4 -18 eat between 4½ and 5½ serves per day. You can check the guidelines for more details but, as an indicator, one cup of raw vegetables or ½ cup of cooked vegetables represents one serve. When it comes to fruit, children between aged 4-18 need between 1½ and 2 serves of fruit every day. A standard serve of fruit is either a medium banana, apple, orange or pear, or two small kiwi fruits, apricots or plums. (Fun fact: A single kiwi fruit has more vitamin C than an orange!)

School lunchbox ideas

So what does this mean for the school lunchbox? Finding the sweet spot between hitting these nutritional guidelines and packing something your child will actually eat is the challenge. A kale salad might be nutrient-dense and taste delicious, but if your child is distracted or busting to hit the playground for a game of handball, it might be a push to expect them to sit still for long enough to eat it. But that doesn’t mean we give up and pack junk food that is going to leave them hungry or struggling with a sugar crash by 2 pm. Here is a guide from the Victorian State Government site “Better Health Channel” with all the bases to touch in a lunchbox. 

  • Fresh fruit
  • Crunchy vegetables
  • A meat or protein food such as slices of lean meat, hardboiled egg, peanut butter or nut paste (If your school allows nuts)
  • Dairy food such as a cheese stick or slice, grated cheese, milk or yoghurt
  • Starchy food such as bread, a roll, pita or flatbread, fruit bread or crackers
  • Water.

There are plenty of detailed lunchbox ideas on the Better Health Channel site, alongside some reasons why lunch is being left uneaten. Click on the link above for more.

Despite Instagram’s best efforts to convince families and carers otherwise, a packed school lunch doesn’t have to rival the output of a great chef. A lunchbox that ticks all the nutritional boxes can be as simple as a sandwich/roll/wrap, some fresh fruit, a tub of yoghurt, cheese and crackers, and a homemade fruit/veggie muffin or slice. 

Get kids involved in their lunch choices

There are some ways to get kids involved in preparing their own lunches – even at preschool level.

  • Work together on a list of (acceptable) food your child would like to eat during the day. 
  • Get kids involved in cooking muffins or slices laden with veggies and fruit.
  • Teens should be packing their own lunches which increases the likelihood of an empty lunchbox at the end of the day, as well as encouraging independence and teaching life skills about food preparation. Everybody wins!

Easy recipe ideas for kids to keep their lunch box fun (and healthy)

If you’re ready to get kids in the kitchen – at home or school – here are some easy recipes to get you started:

Zucchini slice – A classic and extremely portable snack. 

Pikelets – Add fruit or, for a savoury pikelet, omit the sugar and add sweet corn and cheese. Or peel zucchini and grate it in. Kids will never even know it’s there.

Cheese stars – everything looks delicious when it’s cut in a fun shape.

Hummus – everyone’s favourite dip.

Easy carrot and apple flapjacks – healthy and delicious.

Chia pudding – make a big batch and decant into small Tupperware container to be lunchbox ready.

 

We would love to hear your great recipe ideas. Read our feature on school canteens here.

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