Lunchboxes – inspiration or frustration?

It’s lunchbox time again!

No matter if you love or hate your kitchen, there always a time when packing lunch boxes feels like a chore. When Miss 8 first started at child care many years ago I was incredibly hard on myself when packing her lunchbox. I tussled with the dream of providing a bento box masterpiece, enough variety, enough food (but not too much), food she’d eat and not waste, avoiding additives, preservatives and anything in a packet.

I wanted it to be filled with interesting, nutritious, delicious food that would help show a little bit of her mum’s love for her while we were apart. Because lunchboxes do all that, see. That’s why we get so tied in knots about them.  

Over the years I’ve reflected on my own experience and that of my clients.  I believe now that packing your kids’ lunchbox can be a source of inspiration rather than frustration when we consider two things:

  1. Tune in to your child’s nutrition needs at school or child care
  2. Match your lunchbox strategy with your skills, abilities and the time you have available

Tune In

We all have quirks when it comes to eating and I bet you can list off your child’s quirks like a rap sheet.  You are the expert on your kids. You know that Jack prefers small red apples (not green ones) but won’t eat them when the flesh goes brown. Zoe will leave crusts uneaten if the filling isn’t to the edge of the sandwich. Jessica gets distracted easily at the dinner table. Playing is #1 priority for Dean, not eating.

We all want our kids to be nourished in the best way possible. Consider what you can do to make lunchbox contents easy and appealing for your kids.

  • Talk to your kids if they’re old enough about what works well and what doesn’t. Find solutions together to soggy fillings (e.g. can we leave it out, pat it dry first?), foods getting too hot or cold (e.g. can we eat it first or last, freeze it?). Get to the bottom of why food is coming home uneaten.
  • Make sure your preppie can open all food containers and packets by himself.
  • Pack small if you have a small eater. Big portions can be a BIG turn off for kids with a small appetite. Include fillers that pack a nutritional punch in a bite or two e.g. energy balls, nuts or seeds, egg, crackers & cheese
  • Focus on foods that will be satisfying and filling for kids with big appetites. Plenty of fibre from wholegrain breads & cereals, fruit & veggies, a source of protein (meats, legumes, egg, cheese) and a bit of added fat are the key.
  • Test out new lunchbox ideas after school or on weekends to see if they’re worth adding to your lunchbox menu.
  • Include an ice brick and teach kids to eat high risk foods such as yoghurt and meats at first break if food safety is a concern, rather than restrict your lunchbox options.

Your lunchbox strategy = skills + time

Being a baking god or goddess isn’t a prerequisite for a great lunchbox.  The key ingredient in all great lunchboxes is VARIETY, both within each lunchbox and day to day. This keeps kids constantly learning about food rather than sinking into food ruts and getting bored. Your list might include plenty of bake-at-home foods or it may include mostly low/no prep ingredients if you’re short on time.  The biggest lunchbox mistake I see amongst my clients is too much bread, cereal, grain foods and highly processed foods and not enough of anything else.

Create your lunch box go-to list

A great lunch box includes of the following food types: (1) breads/cereals/grains, (2) protein (from meat/eggs/fish/nuts & seeds/legumes/tofu), (3) fruit, (4) veggies (in other foods or easy to eat options on their own), (5) dairy, (6) plain water.

  • Your lunchbox go-to list can include as many options as you and your kids can think of under each of those headings. The more the better.  
  • Eating the same thing over and over is boring! Aim for at least 2 options on your go-to list for each food type so you can switch between the two from day to day. Work on expanding variety on weekends so you can build your go-to list.
  • Keep your list somewhere handy in the kitchen. As children grow, they can become more responsible for packing their own lunchbox with guidance from you about variety.

Fresh, low or no-prep lunch box additions

Here’s a few to get you started…

Breads/cereals/grains – bread, rolls, wraps, dry breakfast cereal, leftover pasta or rice

Protein (from meat/eggs/fish/nuts & seeds/legumes/tofu) – leftover meat, hard boiled eggs, dried legumes, tin of baked beans, nuts (if allowed) or seeds, tinned fish.

Fruit – fresh whole fruit (pick ones that require no cutting for extra speedy lunch box assembly), tinned fruit, dried fruit

Veggies – if possible, start by picking one or 2 veggies that your kids enjoy e.g. whole baby carrots (or big ones!), cherry tomatoes, beans or snow peas, lettuce leaves, celery stick, tinned corn or tinned baked beans. Match these with a dip if your kids prefer. Add one type to a sandwich or wrap (you may need to try this out at home first). If your kids are still learning to like veggies, include these regularly into at-home snacks and meals and explore them with your child.

Dairy – single-serve yoghurts, cheese, milk poppers, cream cheese spread.


Wishing you all a little bit of lunch box magic!

Eat happy


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Kids Dig Food is the Brisbane & Sunshine Coast family nutrition & dietetics service focused on helping parents to help their kids, to dig the right foods!

Call us on 1300 971 609 now for a free, confidential phone consultation, about how we can help.