Lifestyle / Family

Kath Megaw
Clinical Paediatric Dietician
4 minute read
13 Jan 2020
1:30 pm

Getting lunchboxes right

Kath Megaw

Let's try something other than peanut butter and jam sandwiches.

Picture: iStock

Use the new decade and year as an opportunity to try something fresh. It’s a great opportunity to look at what wasn’t working nutritionally for your children and do something totally different.

Let’s start with school lunchboxes.

Lunchboxes can be challenging on many levels; they take a lot of creative energy and thought, yet are often the most wasted snack or meal.

Lunchboxes compete with four main entities:

  • Other lunchboxes
  • Tuck shops
  • Playtime
  • And in many cases concentration medications like Ritalin and Concerta.

So how do we get the lunchbox ‘right’ as a parent?

Put tried and tested foods in the lunchbox

Lunchboxes are not opportunities to introduce your child to new untested foods. Rather try something new over a weekend before adding them to the lunchbox.

Choose foods that won’t spoil or smell

All of us can remember that soggy sandwich, brown apple or squashed banana. Choose foods that will stay as appetising both visually and in flavour. Eggs, fish and other strong-smelling foods can cause a lot of embarrassment when the lunchbox is opened.

Keep the amount of food reasonable and avoid over-doing quantities

Often in desperation, we as moms over-pack the lunchbox in hope that there will be something our child will eat. This often does the opposite and overwhelms our children and they feel like they can’t eat everything, so they don’t even try.

Plan the lunchboxes in advance WITH your child at an age-appropriate level

This works from ages four and up.

Sitting down at the beginning of a week and planning the five days of packed lunches will take a little time but will make the shopping easier and use much less mental energy in the week. Eventually you will have built up a whole month of lunch box ideas.

It is very empowering and gives a sense of ownership and responsibility to your child. You can always add a surprise after you and your child have packed the lunchbox together. A surprise can be in the form of a picture note, sticker or a small piece of stationery. These surprises are cool up to 7-8 years of age and then you may need to be more subtle. A hidden note may be more appropriate at this age.

Use the following LUNCHBOX ROAD MAP:

One to two from healthy starches:

  • wraps
  • whole-wheat bread
  • crackers
  • rice cakes
  • rice rolls
  • homemade muesli mix

One to two from healthy fats:

  • six to 10 nuts (where schools allow)
  • coconut clusters
  • coconut pieces
  • pitted olives
  • butter on bread
  • mayonnaise sauce

One from fruit:

Dried fruits are often better choices especially in summer as they don’t spoil in the heat.

Two to three foods from protein foods:

  • Chicken strips
  • Biltong
  • Pork strips
  • Beef strips
  • Tofu strips
  • Rice and bean rolls
  • Edamame beans
  • Cheese

Yoghurt squeeze sachets or drinking yoghurts OR

Fresh water (with infused fruit if children don’t like plain water)

Keep food practical

Avoid cumbersome packaging and think about what is the quickest, easiest, and coolest way for your child to eat the packed lunch. A container of yoghurt with a spoon may seem logical but some children will not have the ‘time’ or inclination to sit down and eat yoghurt with a spoon. So a yoghurt in a little squishy that they can suck quickly while walking or playing may have a better chance of being eaten.

Happy lunchbox packing!

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Donor expressed breast milkKath Megaw (BSc Dietetics Hons, Diploma Paediatric Dietetics) holds four medical qualifications including a paediatric dietetic qualification from the prestigious Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA. She has been published in the Epilepsia journal on the use of the paediatric ketogenic diet in third-world settings and frequently speaks to groups of both professionals and parents on infant and childhood nutrition. Kath is the author of Real Food, Healthy, Happy Children (Quivertree Publications), the co-author of Feeding Sense (Metz press), The Low Carb Solution for Diabetics (Quivertree Publications), as well as co-author of Weaning Sense and Allergy Sense (Quivertree Publications). Kath has been in private practice for over 18 years and is the founder of Nutripaeds, a paediatric dietetic practice.