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We have all been witness to the dreaded uneaten lunch at the end of the school day. Finding the sweet spot between hitting nutritional guidelines and packing something your child will actually eat is a challenge. And although social media might try to convince us otherwise, a packed school lunch doesn’t have to rival the output of a great chef. Where to from here? We’ve rounded up all the best, expert advice from around the web, so read on for all the tips, tricks and easy lunch ideas to get kids and teens onboard with healthy eating, especially during school hours.

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Nutrition doesn’t exist in a bubble

So many factors play into food choices – income, transport, location and access to safe food storage can all impact the kind of food that is packed in a school-bound lunchbox. A family’s cultural background is also significant in making food choices. (For more insight, take a look at this collection of images showing typical school lunches around the world). Basically, we’re all doing the best we can. This is a judgement free zone.  

What should kids be eating every day?

There is so much information online about healthy eating, it’s hard to know where to start. Luckily,  The Australian Dietary Guidelines have very clear guidelines on what constitutes a healthy diet. The information they publish is evidence-based and, in short, supports a diet rich in unprocessed foods – often referred to as ‘wholefoods’. This includes foods such as:

  • Lots of fresh fruit and veggies 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 for example: one cup of raw vegetables or ½ cup of cooked vegetables equals 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. 

School lunchbox ideas

Lunchtime is the social event of the day. Kids are busy chatting or busting to hit the basketball court and run around after a morning spent sitting down learning – food is pretty much functional at this point. This doesn’t mean we give up and pack junk food that will leave them hungry or with a sugar slump by 1pm. The Better Health Channel has a guide which details all the bases to hit for a healthy school lunchbox and it’s not as complicated as you would think.

  • 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

Essentially, 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.

How to get kids involved in their food choices

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

  • Kids can start packing their own lunch at around 10-11 years old, the age at which they naturally start developing good food management skills. It also encourages independence, supports the development of critical life-skills and increases the likelihood of an empty lunchbox come 3.30pm. Sign us up!
  • Get kids involved in cooking muffins or slices packed with healthy ingredients.
  • Work on a list of foods together that your child would like to eat during the day. If it’s possible, go food shopping together and make cooking and eating a collaborative affair.

Easy recipe ideas for kids 

All these recipes are tried and tested winners for the school lunch box and the after-school rush. The best part? Kids of all ages can get involved with prepping and making their own snacks – which means there is a much higher chance of them being eaten. 

Vegetable slice – This portable snack is also a great way to cut down on food waste. 

Cheese stars – or hearts. Or teddy bears. You choose your shape. If it’s true we eat with our eyes, cute food makes sense. 

Banana and bran muffins – fibre-rich, nutrient-dense and delicious.

Breakfast bars – also known as homemade muesli bars. Just the right amount of chewy and crunchy that makes them easy for kids to eat on the run. 

Chia pudding – prepare a big batch in advance to store in the fridge and simply decant into smaller containers for lunchbox and after-school snacks. 

Pikelets – Pikelets are great as conduits for healthy additions like fruit. Ditch the sugar and add grated carrot and corn, cheese, or peel a zucchini and grate it in for invisible veg. Yes, hiding vegetables is a little bit sneaky – but it’s for a good cause!

Beet and Ricotta hummus – This hot pink play on hummus is irresistibly pretty and delicious, while still being kid and teen approved. 

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