The Quest For A Healthy Lunchbox… That Will Actually Get Eaten!

As parents, we have a strong physiological drive to feed our children. From day one (actually hour one!) the focus is on nourishing them. Have they had enough? What is actually enough? When do I introduce solids? Am I a bad parent if I’m not making everything from scratch with locally sourced and organic produce?!

Right up there with sleep, food is a large focus of parenting for the first few years of a child’s life.

And quite rightly so – after all, a hungry toddler is not a very pleasant one. A very wise person once said, “Hell hath no fury like a 3-year old whose sandwiches were cut into stars when they wanted triangles”.

Once the first few years have been safely navigated, we reach that long-anticipated day – their first day of school. We arm them with a bright and shiny new school bag, drink bottle, pencil case and of course a lunch box packed with a lovingly made and healthy selection of food to nourish and sustain them in the long hours ahead.

You congratulate yourself on a job well done. That is until they arrive home and it all gets thrown in the bin.

Sigh. They are few things more soul-destroying than a child arriving home with a relatively un-touched lunchbox.

Firstly, realise that it’s not unusual. From trading better-looking sandwiches in the playground to the ‘hiding mouldy muffins in the never-opened part of the school bag’ trick – kids have been revolting against school lunches for an awfully long time.

However it can’t be ignored, it’s impossible not to default back to our innate physiological drive to sustain and nourish our offspring. We just can’t be letting them go hungry. And there’s plenty of good research to support this – a hungry child is definitely not a focused, learning child.

So how do we create a healthy, varied, yummy lunchbox – that will actually get eaten?

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A nutritionally balanced lunch box

Whilst there is the temptation to fill the lunchbox with appealing, packaged goodies that will at least be consumed, we know that not all food is created equal.

Let’s look at what makes up a nutritionally balanced lunchbox:

  1. vitamins, minerals and fibre – 1 serve fruit (try pineapple, banana, grapes) and 2 serves vegetables (try carrots, cucumber, capsicum)
  2. protein for growth – try at least 1 serving of meat, poultry, legumes, fish, egg, nuts (if allowed at school)
  3. carbohydrate for energy – 1-2 servings of foods like rice, bread, potato, kumara, noodles, pasta etc.
  4. calcium for growing bones and teeth – 1 serving of milk, yoghurt or cheese (dairy or non-dairy)

If you are able to tick off these four food groups in one way or another, you’re well and truly on your way to producing a healthy lunchbox.

Now we need to ensure that it will actually get eaten…

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An interesting, varied lunchbox

None of us likes eating the same thing day in, day out.

One lunchbox trap to be aware of is ‘over-doing’ an item.

When we discover that our child likes it, we think we’re onto a winner so we give it to them every day. It’s not surprising then that after a week of having to eat exactly the same thing, the winner quickly becomes passé.

To avoid this, try alternating the item and pop it in every second day so your child doesn’t get sick of it too quickly!

The other thing to consider is a yummy alternative to sandwiches.

Things like fun shaped pasta with grated cheese and a splash of olive or mini ham and eggs quiches (these are super-easy to make up ahead of time and freeze) provide a delicious break from the monotony of sandwiches. For something totally different try boiling up some frozen dumplings with a little drizzle of tamari sauce (lower-salt and wheat alternative to soya sauce). Yum!

You’ll find plenty of great ideas online for yummy, nutritious alternatives to sandwiches.

We’d love to hear your ideas too – you can share in the comments section below!

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A yummy lunchbox

So you’re feeling happy that you’ve covered all of your nutritional bases? Go on – add a little muffin or a bliss ball (or two!).

Remember, kids are kids and they love a good treat. In fact, sometimes homemade muffins or bliss balls are considerably lower in sugar than some of those so-called ‘healthy lunchbox fillers’ that you find at the supermarket.

And if you’re not a baker don’t despair – keep an eye out at the supermarket for low-sugar alternatives like Gullon, a Spanish brand of cookies that is low in sugar but super-delicious. They’ll never know the difference!

For a final treat to make their lunchbox extra special, you could surprise them with a little note wishing them a fun, happy day! Kids love knowing that you’re thinking about them and who knows, it might just make them eat that carrot stick after all.

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