Healthy School Lunchbox 101

How is it the start of the school term already?! Are you already dreading the production line of lunchboxes to prepare?

I’ve got my top tips for putting together a nutritious, delicious and fun lunchbox for your little monkeys to give them the boost in energy and concentration they need to get through a day of school work and after school sports!

Healthy Lunchbox Tips

So the amounts of food will obviously vary depending on the age, growth needs and appetite of your child as well as their preferences! This lunchbox is aimed for a primary school child but portions could be adjusted based on their needs.

But here’s a guide to ensuring you’re getting all the essentials in your little one’s lunchbox for a full day of learning, running around and just being a kid!

(1) Fruit

One piece of whole fruit is the perfect lunchbox snack! Choose something seasonal so it tastes it’s best and make the fruit as accessible as possible, chopping into bite sized pieces, peeling or popping them on a mini skewer even just throwing in a toothpick can all help with encouraging your little one to enjoy nature’s candy It turns blueberries into a caterpillar on a log!

Blueberry skewers

Avoid regularly packing dried fruit, these are much higher in energy, and overall higher in sugar when compared to their hydrated counterparts, plus they’re likely to get stuck in your little one’s teeth and rack up a decent dental bill – eek!

(2) Snacking veggies

In NSW schools, most public primary schools have a “fruit and veg break” also known as Crunch & Sip! This is a time where children are to eat either fruit or salad veggies and drink water, only!

Keep your little on crunching and munching with some snacking veg, some ideas include:

  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Cucumber sticks or slices, also the “Qukes” are already snack sized to save you the extra step of chopping!
  • Carrot sticks or slices
  • Capsicum slices
  • Green beans
  • Snow peas or sugar snaps
  • Celery sticks

If that’s too boring, add a little bit of avocado, cream cheese, hummus or another dip for them to take control and modify the flavour.

How to get kids to eat their veggies

(3) Dairy or an alternative

Dairy foods are important at all ages but whilst your little one is growing, they’re laying down more and more bone mass and they need calcium from their food to create new bone! It’s also important for their muscles too.

Dairy is also a great source of satiating protein and can be a great snack for when you’re on the go!

Some ideas to try to get some dairy into their lunchbox:

  • Natural yoghurt with frozen berries or honey & seeds (e.g. sunflower, pepitas, chia)
  • Plain milk popper
  • Plain soy milk popper
  • Flavoured milk popper
  • 2 match box sized slices of cheese
  • A cheese stick

(4) Extra snack for active children

Is your kid that child that is always on the go with after-school sports, activities and seems to be busier than you?! They may need a little something extra to get them through the afternoon in that case.

Wholegrains are a good option for that extra something!

  • Nut-free muesli bar
  • Popcorn
  • Roasted chickpeas or fava beans
  • Wholegrain crackers with cheese or vegemite
Popcorn Lunchbox Snack

(5) Main Event: Sandwich, Wrap, Leftovers

Whilst there’s most certainly nothing wrong with a sandwich, some kids are just over it as an option! Looking for something equally as simple to prepare that will get their taste buds dancing?

Give some of these ideas a go:

  • Wrap – a wholegrain wrap with hummus or avo spread, a lean meat, egg or cheese with some salad veggies. This can be cut into pin wheels which just makes it easier to eat and provides an element of novelty too.
  • Leftovers from dinner – leftover pasta bake, lasagna or meatballs are all great lunchbox fillers – remember to pack a toothpick or cutlery so they can eat it without (too much) mess!
  • Mini quiches – whipping up a quick quiche in a muffin tin and freezing them for lunchboxes can be a serious time save on weekdays
  • Mini pizza cups – I got this idea from the lovely FitFamilySydney using a circle of wholegrain pita or wrap or make your own dough and top with a dab of tomato paste or sauce then sprinkle with a few veggies and cheese, great for the freezer!
  • Savoury muffins – another batch cook on a Sunday night for a few school lunch box fillers, and a great after school snack too!
  • Or just stick with the humble sandwich – go for a wholegrain bread, use hummus or avocado or a smear of cream cheese as a spread, add your lean meat (leftover roast chicken) or cheese and some greens for a balanced lunchtime sanga!
Lunchbox Wrap Pinwheels

(6) A water bottle

An absolute essential! A compact water bottle that doesn’t leak (!!!) and makes drinking water really accessible for your child, whether that’s a pop top type of lid or strayer, or if they prefer it to stay cool a thermo bottle. Ensure it’s not too heavy in their bag.

If you’re concerned about their fluid intake, check if they’re using the bubblers at school.

BONUS Lunchbox tips

  • Get your child to help you pack their lunchbox, give them a few options all of which you’re happy with to choose from – they’re more likely to eat what goes in if they were involved with it!
  • Know your school’s policies when it comes to nuts, other allergens and food sharing – unsure? Ask your school!
  • Keep it cool – make sure foods such as dairy foods, meats and eggs are kept cool appropriately. In the warmer months, freezing a water bottle of milk popper can keep everything else cool. Throw out anything that comes home that should have been refrigerated, the rule is longer than 4 hours and it needs to go – it’s not worth getting your family sick!
  • Get cute – kids love the novelty of things, their taste for things can fatigue quickly if you don’t provide a variety of things or even just change how they’re presented! There’s lots of unattainable lunchbox inspiration on Instagram and Pinterest BUT you can just do a few simple things, popping cherry tomatoes on a skewer or some blueberries can make it more fun to eat those foods. Or using a sandwich stamp or making watermelon stars can all be fairly quick ways to make the lunchbox a bit more fun, especially if lunchboxes are coming home with lots still inside! Psst… this is a good one to get your kiddos to do for you the night before!
Watermelon Stars

What to do about lots of lunch leftovers?

Is just as much food coming back home as you sent to school? If it’s a piece of fruit or veg, you can re-offer it. If it’s dairy or meat or eggs, it needs to be tossed (unfortunately). Kids get busy at school, they’d rather play or some schools only allow limited time to eat in the classroom and some children just eat slower and food is just not a priority for them. AreThis can be completely normal (although frustrating and sometimes concerning!)

Healthy School Lunchbox Ideas

In the first instance, address why this might be the case (not enough time, wanting to play, not liking that food) and continue to offer well-accepted foods in an accessible way. You can do some of the more challenging food exposure at home for the time being. Ensure that the most nutritious foods are then offered at breakfast and dinner instead to “make up for it”. If you’re still having problems with poor intake at school, seek professional advice from your GP and get a referral to a paediatric dietitian.

And there are my top tips to nailing a healthy lunchbox, you’ll be breezing through lunchbox prep in no-time! And don’t forget your own lunch or brekkie prep whilst you’re sorting your little munchkins out, it’s just as important to fuel yourself to be there for all the ups and downs!

Still need some help with packing lunchboxes? Or run out of ideas? Need expert advice on children’s nutrition? Make an appointment with me today.