The Hobart

Healthy Lunchbox Eats

by Serena Hodge
Healthy Lunchbox Eats

With department store shelves brimming with backpacks and glittery pencil cases, it’s that time of year where people (begrudgingly) get back into the swing of school and work lunches.

School years are a time where children learn quickly and are easily influenced by peers. Therefore, it marks a key time to discuss healthy eating at home. Fuelling children with nutritious food will not only help them to concentrate, learn and play at school; but also form healthy habits to carry throughout adult life.

Involving children in the process of preparing school lunches is one way to improve their food knowledge and increase their likelihood of actually eating what you pack. This could look like sitting down to discuss snack ideas for the coming week, having them accompany you at the supermarket, and includ­ing them in preparing meals together. Encouraging autonomy with food choices is an important step towards raising healthy, well-nourished kids. This could be as simple as letting them choose which fruit they pack, or having them mix the batter for a batch of blueberry muffins.

Remember that it’s normal for the amount of food a child eats to fluctuate day-to-day. A parent’s role is to provide nutritions options, while allowing children to decide when and how much they eat. Don’t sweat it if they skip the sandwich or screw their nose up at the carrot sticks you so lovingly julienned for them. Increasing acceptance of new foods can take time and repeated exposure. Knowing that there is always a chance to try again tomorrow…say, sneak some grated carrot in a savoury muffin instead.

The 6 elements of a healthy lunchbox:

Fruit: Fresh or canned in juice are best. Keep fruit straps and dried fruit to a minimum. They are high in sugar, stick around on teeth and can contribute to childhood tooth decay.

Vegetables: Think crunch and colour. Try veggie sticks, adding salad to sandwiches or baking vegetables into a savoury slice or muffin.

Dairy and/or alternatives: Think cheese, yoghurt and plain milk (reduced fat vari­eties can be consumed by children over two years of age). If plant-based alterna­tives are required, choose those that are calcium fortified.

Meat: and/or alternatives: Leftover lean meat cuts, boiled eggs, natural nut butter and hummus are protein-rich sandwich fillings to replace sugar-rich chocolate spreads, jam and honey. Consider raw nuts as a snack (if the allergen guidelines at the school allows).

Grain: Include whole grain varieties of bread, wraps, flatbreads and crackers. Avoid processed or ‘oven-baked’ snack biscuits as they are laden with refined grains and unhealthy fats.

Water: Tap water is best, or plain milk. Avoid soft drinks, they add unnecessary sugar and energy to a child’s dietary intake and increase risk of tooth decay. Same goes for artificially sweetened beverages, due to their acidic, tooth-eroding nature.

I want to make the point that lunchboxes do not need to be grandiose to be healthy (i.e. extravagant raw slices or quinoa salad). In other words, let’s normalise boring staples. Because as long as you are ticking off the basics of nutrition, there is no trophy for having the most aestheti­cally packed bento box in the schoolyard. A humble sandwich, tub of yoghurt, veggie sticks, boiled egg and apple in an inexpensive Sistema tub will do the trick.

Packaged foods: Yay or nay?

Sure, it’s a nice thought that we could all be so perfect as to not include packaged foods in our kids lunch boxes. But let’s be real, most parents are time poor and rely on such products to get everyone out the door in time. So just be mindful that when you do opt for these, choose products that are lower in refined sugar, salt, saturated fat and higher in fibre. A few dietitian approved snacks include: Cobs popcorn, The Happy Snack Company roasted chickpeas or fava beans, Macro Lentil Chips and Messy Monkey wholegrain bites.

Keeping lunch boxes fresh (and safe!)

Before I let you go, let’s take a moment to brush up on food safety. Ensure perisha­ble items are kept cool, especially during the warmer months. Tucking a small ice pack between the yoghurt and pasta salad should do the trick. It is recommended that refrigerator items are consumed within four hours of preparation. Remind children to store their school bag in a cool place, out of direct sunlight. Lastly, remember to always check allergen guidelines of what foods are allowed to enter the classroom at your child’s school. Or develop a safety management plant with your child’s doctor, school, teacher and class if they suffer from an allergy themselves.

For more ideas on building a healthy lunchbox, visit the Cancer Council Healthy Lunchbox website. This article is intended to inform general health eating advice. For individualised dietary advice, visit a dietitian.

Follow Serena on Instagram @coconut_mason or at

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May 2024

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