The school term is about to get under way, and we are about to get back into the school lunch box routine.

It is a well known fact that what our children eat over the day can affect their mood, behaviour and concentration. To help your child survive the school day it is important that they are well fuelled to cope with the day’s activities. Here are some ideas to help you get packed school lunches sorted.

Ideas & Suggestions

The first starting place is to make sure that breakfast is part of the daily routine – for everyone. It doesn’t matter if we are thinking of a five-year-old or a 16-year-old. Without breakfast we are starting the day on an empty tank and that means energy levels and concentration will be less than adequate.

As well as food it is important to include a drink at breakfast time. Being even slightly dehydrated has a significant effect on mood, concentration and energy levels.

If your child is not a breakfast eater try not to accept no for an answer. If you can get them to eat even a little this will help and once the habit of eating breakfast is established it will be easy to work on changing or improving choices. Remember though that if you don’t eat breakfast your child is less likely to eat it – so make it a normal routine for the whole family.

When packing the school lunch box it is important to make sure it is nutritionally balanced. For a child at school, the contents of the lunch box make up a main meal of the day, so it needs to be nutritious and satisfying. It is best made from a selection of whole foods. Try to avoid or limit the processed or packaged foods such as muesli bars and fruit bars.

The more processed and packaged foods you put in, the more likely it is that the child’s intake of sugar, salt and fat will increase.

school lunch

Key elements to a well packed lunch box include:

  • At least 1-2 fruit and / or vegetable choices – this could be as raw or pottles of fruit, vegetable sticks, baby tomatoes or carrots, salad, gherkins or olives for the more discerning palate.
  • A carbohydrate choice such as bread (introduce variety by trying different breads such as wraps, pita pockets, bagels), some mini muffins or small savoury scones, small serves of pasta or rice salads or rice in the form of sushi.
  • A protein choice such as cheese, egg, meat or dairy products. These could be part of the sandwich or salad or they could be served on their own.
  • Drink – water is best

For many parents who have kids just starting school a common concern is whether their child will eat the lunch that has been packed. This can be a very challenging area for some families. If you are facing this issue try to tackle it sooner rather than later.

Some tips you could try include:

  • Remind your child each day when you give them the lunch box that you want to see it eaten before they come home – and then remember to check it when they get home and praise them if they have done a great job.
  • Start a reward chart for lunches eaten.
  • Involve them in what they might want in the lunch box – but guide them towards healthy choices.
  • If you do put a treat type option in the lunch box such as chippies or biscuits and this is all that is eaten, then limit these foods (even after school) until other choices are eaten.
  • If lunch is not eaten at school avoid giving other snacks when they come home from school until the leftover lunch is eaten (assuming it will be safe and not pose a food poisoning threat).

If you find it really hard to find motivation for the school lunch each day, then try writing a list of ideas and put it on the fridge or in the pantry to jog your memory on those days when you are stuck. Involve your children in the process so that they can slowly take over this responsibility.


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Fiona Boyle is a registered dietitian and nutritionist. She runs a private practice and gives nutrition advice to individuals and families to help meet their health needs and personal goals.

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