Healthy school lunch ideas

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With a return to school imminent, many parents are literally counting down the hours until life becomes relatively sane again, well, at least between the hours of 9-3pm anyway. With a new school year also comes the annual healthy school lunch ideas, in which committed, organised mums are thought to spend hours preparing marinated chicken drumsticks, mini frittatas and muffins for their brood in the hope that their lunchbox ticks all nutritional standards. Being children consume up to 30% of their daily food while they are at school, it is important that school lunchboxes contain the right mix of foods (1). 

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One of the biggest, yet less frequently mentioned issues with kid’s lunchboxes is that the bulk of the foods commonly included are high carbohydrate in nature. The average lunchbox filled with fruit, snacks, muesli bars, plain white bread sandwiches and fruit juice is more than 60% carbohydrate. Now while growing, active kids do need plenty of energy, energy in the form of processed, high sugar carbs such as fruit snacks, juices, snack bars and biscuits are digested quickly, result in a high release of the hormone insulin and leaves kids prone to overeating and weight gain long term. A second less is the effect that these foods have on teeth – with sticky fruit twists, snack bars with icing and confectionery and juices exposing the teeth to sugars which increase the risk of tooth decay.

The trick for parents is finding the right balance between good nutrition and foods that children want to eat when packing a school lunchbox.

A well balanced lunchbox will include:

1. Sandwich, wrap or crackers

Remember that wholegrain and whole meal varieties of breads and crisp breads are best. Try to also include a protein rich filling such as ham, tuna, chicken breast or egg on sandwiches as the protein helps to keep kids full throughout the afternoon.

2. Piece of fruit

Fresh fruit is always best as dried fruit, fruit juice, fruit sticks and straps are high in sugar and digested quickly.

3. Dairy food

Dairy foods including milk, cheese, yoghurt and dairy snacks provide both calcium and protein for healthy bones, teeth and growth.

4. Snack

Aim for snacks to contain <400kJ per serve and options that are made from whole grains.

5. Water

Water should always be the drink of choice for children. Fruit juice, cordial and flavoured waters are high in sugar and not consumed regularly.

Good luck to all the parents out there and don’t worry if you don’t get it perfect every single day!


(1) Sanigorski, A.M, Bell, A.C, Kremer, P.J, Swinburn, B.A (2005) Lunchbox contents of Australian school children: room for improvement. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition Vol 59 pp 1310-1316

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