Dietitian’s simple lunchbox advice

Making school lunchboxes is a task loathed by many parents.

Deciding what food to send a child to school with can also be confusing. There’s so much conflicting advice about nutrition, not to mention school bans on certain foods due to allergies.

But packing a school lunchbox doesn’t have to be laborious.

Kate Di Prima is an accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia.

Here, she gives simple advice on what food items should be included in school lunch boxes.

THE MAIN ITEM:  The ‘hero feature’ of the lunch box. It can be last night’s leftovers, a wrap, salad, sandwiches, sushi, soup or pasta.

This item should contain the iron-rich protein whether it’s meat, legumes or tofu. Examples included tinned tuna, baked beans and chicken. This item sustains the child throughout the day and should be eaten first.

If you are packing a sandwich think about the fillings. Often a sandwich with tomato or tabbouleh comes back uneaten because it’s gone soggy.

Put the spread (avocado or butter) on the bread then keep the filling separate so the child can put the sandwich together. For little ones, try drying off the salad ingredients and put the ham on the bread with the salad in the middle to prevent the bread from going soggy.

ITEM 2: A piece of fresh fruit with edible skin to provide the child with fibre and important vitamins and minerals. It can be chopped up and put back together as a whole piece, or it can be chopped up into bite-sized pieces.

ITEM 3: This item should be a calcium rich dairy food or equivalent such as milk, biscuits and cheese, yoghurt, custard or a smoothie.

ITEM 4: A vegetable. The last nutrition survey showed an astronomical number of adults who aren’t eating vegetables. Ones that go well in a lunch box include carrots with hummus, green beans or cherry tomatoes.

ITEM 5: Parents should include a fifth lunch box item if their child is doing an after-school activity. It can be something fun and sweet that doesn’t include a heap of sugar such as a homemade blueberry muffin, cereal slice, muesli slice or fruit balls.

DRINKS: It’s important to send your child to school with water.


STICKER SYSTEM: For younger children use stickers to indicate which lunch box items should be eaten first.  Quite often a parent puts a blueberry muffin in and the child will eat that first and it won’t sustain them. Put a gold sticker on what should be eaten first, put a red sticker on what should be eaten second, etc.

STORAGE:  We’ve taking ham and chicken sandwiches to school for decades and there have been no major breakouts of gastro. The bacteria build-up isn’t much in the first few hours. If you put the lunch box down the back of the fridge and in the morning put ice in the thermos, the food stays nice and cool until at least the first break.