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Making your kid’s school lunches can take a good 20-minute chunk out of your morning routine. And some days it’s hard work.

Dealing with fussiness. Ensuring that it’s heart healthy. Making sure you are giving them the right amount of food. Making sure that it stays fresh because it can’t be re-heated and it’s not stored in a fridge. The things to keep in mind seem endless.

Coming up with ideas to keep your kids interested and well-nourished is a huge challenge. Here are some tips for creating a nourishing, yet uncomplicated school lunch box.

Step 1: Add a vegetable

You might be thinking: “What’s the point? They’ll just throw it in the bin.” True. They might. But they also might eat it. Vegetables are the cornerstone of a healthy diet and a vital source of nutrients. If you want your children to eat them, you need to make them available to eat, regularly.

For your child to accept them, vegetables need to be a regular and normal part of their life. Being in the lunch box every day is an important step. Here are some simple ideas for lunch boxes:

  • Carrot sticks
  • Cucumber sticks
  • Capsicum sticks
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Snow peas
  • Baby spinach in a wrap or on a sandwich
  • Corn kernels
  • Potato salad
  • Vegetable soup in a thermos (great for winter)

If you’re worried about waste, start offering your kids vegetable snacks outside of school to help them get used to the idea. If vegetables are regularly available to eat, your kids will eat them. And so will you! Here are eight other easy ways to eat more veggies.

Step 2: Add a piece of fruit

Most primary schools incorporate a ‘fruit break’ into the daily timetable for the sole purpose of teaching kids to snack on fruit. It also offers them the opportunity to eat something nutritious to keep them going until lunch.

Fruit is an important source of energy, dietary fibre, antioxidants and other nutrients. One to two large pieces of fruit per day is the recommend intake for children.

Here are fruits that require no prep. Just pop them in the lunch box:

  • Bananas
  • Apples (smaller kids or ones with wobbly teeth may need their apples cut up)
  • Mandarins
  • Grapes
  • Pears
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines

If you’ve got a bit more time, here are some fruit ideas that need a little bit of preparation:

  • Pineapple
  • Watermelon
  • Rockmelon
  • Kiwifruit (keep the skin on and cut it half. Pop in a spoon to scoop out the flesh)
  • Oranges
  • Mango

Step 3: Add in a whole grain, legume and/or starchy vegetable

Kids need energy to grow, move and learn, but they need to get it from good quality food sources. Cakes, biscuits, lollies and other baked goods can be occasional treats in your kid’s lunch box, however, including a whole food source of carbohydrate will help fill them up and be an important source of nutrients, especially fibre.

Here are some food ideas for the lunch box:

  • Wholegrain bread or wrap (whole meal, rye, soy and linseed or multigrain are the best options) – add a spread or filling of your choice
  • Wholemeal pasta – create a cold pasta salad with chopped vegetables + ham, chicken or tuna
  • Brown rice – create a cold rice salad with chopped vegetables + ham, chicken or tuna
  • Wholegrain crackers with different toppings or dip
  • Potato salad (keep the skin on) – you can even pop in a hot baked potato, sliced and wrapped in foil which will stay warm until lunch – fill with ham, cheese and fresh parsley
  • Rice paper rolls – filled with rice noodles, raw vegetables and chicken
  • Baked beans
  • Roast chickpeas
  • Lentil salad – add cherry tomatoes, chopped capsicum, baby spinach and then toss in a small amount of mayonnaise

Step 4: Add some chicken, meat, fish and/or eggs

These foods are going to offer your kids a source of protein along with other nutrients like vitamin B12 and iron. Protein will help your kids stay full and satisfied and give their body the building blocks to grow and learn.

Here are some ideas to include in their lunchbox:

  • Cold chicken drumsticks – toss drumsticks in olive oil, a pinch of salt and a drizzle of lemon juice. Bake in the oven for 30–40 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Once they’ve cooled to room temperature, store them in the fridge. Pop them into the lunch box to eat cold.
  • BBQ chicken meat – grab a whole BBQ chicken and shred up the breast and thigh meat. Pop into the lunch box as finger food or into a wrap or sandwich.
  • Tinned tuna or salmon – add into sandwiches, wraps, pasta salads, potato salads or on its own.
  • Boiled eggs – pop into lunch boxes whole or sliced. You can also mash them with a small amount of mayo or avocado and pop into a wrap or sandwich. Chopped boiled egg is also fantastic in a potato salad.
  • Leg ham – unprocessed leg ham is great in sandwiches and wraps, thrown into pasta or potato salads or as finger food on its own.
  • Leftover roast meat – cold roast beef or lamb is delicious to eat as finger food on its own or fantastic in a sandwich wrap or salad.

Find five other protein-packed recipes here.

Step 5: Add a snack

Add something nutritious, quick and easy to eat. Here are some ideas:

  • Wholegrain muesli bar (choose one with a lower amount of sugar by checking ingredients lists or make your own)
  • Air-popped popcorn
  • Wholegrain rice crackers
  • Cheese cubes or slices
  • Yoghurt (choose one with a lower amount of sugar, by checking ingredients lists)
  • Pikelets
  • Savoury muffins (pumpkin, spinach, cheese, ham, etc) or a fruit bran muffin

Step 6: Add a water bottle

Kids don’t need juice, cordial or other sugar-sweetened drinks. It’s much better for them to drink water to stay well-hydrated, and this also helps set them up with good habits for life.

Header image: Pexels

About the author

The Healthy Eating Hub

This article was written by an Accredited Practicing Dietitian from The Healthy Eating Hub. The Healthy Eating Hub is a team of university-qualified nutritionists and dietitians who are passionate about helping people develop long term healthy eating habits through offering evidence-based and practical nutrition advice that people can put into practice straight away.

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