How to Win at School Lunchboxes

I daren't calculate how many packed lunches I've made in my lifetime. The fact is that for the best part of two decades I began the day with a roll of lunch wrap and a scowl. My first waking thought every morning was "what will I put in their lunches?". I could have just bought the lunch stuff, pre packaged. Lots of people do – it’s a multibillion dollar industry. But I didn't because not only is much of it junk food, (the kids would have loved it!), it was simply too expensive to waste and we are, truth be told, a family of “lunch leavers”.

My brother in law Vic’s older siblings inducted him into their secret lunch dumping club at an early age and nephew El’s collection of uneaten lunches sparked a health alert when spores from mildewed sandwiches nearly blinded someone. My own shameful collection of school lunches were skitched under the bed and periodically hooked out by my outraged mother with the head of the broom. And my Jack, lovely boy, didn't eat a packed lunch for 9 years. 
In the end I only packed him a lunch so I don’t get visited by child services. I knew he wouldn't eat it and I regularly saw lots of kids at school dumping complete untouched lunches into the bin with casual familiarity.
My Bella though – always ate hers, loved that I drew faces on her hard cooked egg and when I put avocado in her ham salad sandwich – perhaps she was swapped at birth?
Whether they eat it or not we still have to pack it and filling the lunch with treats won’t automatically make them eat it either. So have a few things you can just snatch and grab, that don’t need spreading or wrapping or stuffing. A healthy lunch is cheap to make and you probably have most of the ingredients already so forget spending up on pre packed treats and prepare your own.

Prepare these "snatch and grab" lunch box stuffers on Sunday night so you are set up for the week ahead.
  • Make individual jellies with fruit in re-useable containers – better for the environment and cheaper than the store-bought ones. Suitable fruits are peaches, pears, banana, apricots and berries – fresh pineapple and kiwifruit can make the jelly runny – something to do with acid I think

  • Prepare some similar containers of yogurt so you can alternate

  • Make Home popped corn and pack in snap lock bags

  • Home baking – mini muffins are ideal as they’re a more appropriate serving size of what is essentially cake and mini’s go such a long way

  • Home-made muesli bars or some other bar or slice – flapjack made with rolled oats is cheap and tasty and really easy to make

  • Freeze small scones, savoury or sweet, that can be pulled out of the freezer as required

  • Muffins small or regular freeze well and will be defrosted by morning tea time – we bake a batch each week and freeze them

  • You will need a “main event”- sandwich, roll, crackers, sushi, rice salad, left over pasta salad or noodles, piece of quiche or pizza from a previous meal, cold sausage or one of my mighty cheese scrolls…

1. Keep treat foods as treats:
Chippies etc aren’t everyday snacks, they’re occasional or "treat" foods. Yes the kids will moan, but as parents we get to make the nutritional decision’s, not the kids. 

2. Use bribery and corruption:
If they’ve eaten their lunch properly all week, done their homework and learned the spelling words (or whatever is important that week) they can choose a treat to include in the lunch box once a week. 

3. Keep it simple:
Adults are attracted to complicated sandwich fillings, kids often aren’t. Particularly if the filling makes the sandwich soggy. Instead of a big fat juicy ham and salad sandwich try a simple ham sandwich, then pack cherry tomatoes and some carrot sticks or snow peas to eat separately. 

4. Keep portions small:
Marketers understand that kids love little portions so they package accordingly. Use small reusable containers and bags for kid size snacks. Older kids can stuff a small portion in their pocket to eat while they amble around chatting.

5. Include some of the 5+ a day in little portions:
Raisins or dried apricots, grapes or strawberries, baby carrots or bean sprouts. Natural nibbly things. Avoid large apples, whole oranges and bananas – they’re all too often left uneaten as they take too long, interfering with playtime/socialising.

6. Talk about healthy choices:
They’ll begin to notice and talk about who has a healthy lunch and who doesn’t. That doesn’t mean they won’t still moan or “forget” to eat theirs.  

7. Don’t disparage spreads:
Peanut butter, honey, marmite or jam makes a quick, tasty, cheap sandwich. It doesn’t have to be a banquet every day. 

8. Spend less on pre-packaged snack foods:
Redirect the money to appealing, healthy fresh foods, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, dried fruits and nuts.

Swap the regular lunch order or tuck shop lunch for a once a term outing, movie voucher or game credit…

    Limit lunch orders and tuck shop purchases to once a week: 
    And choose just one item off the lunch order menu instead of a whole meal. They’ll still be hungry enough to eat the fruit and crackers in their lunch box.
    While older kids should be able to make their own lunch, many (not all) teenagers would rather die of starvation or better yet buy something, than make it themselves. 
    Be realistic, either continue making it for them so they eat properly or leave it up to them and let them live with the consequences.        

    How the schools can help improve our kids health  

    Encourage the school tuck shop provider to sign up for the Heart Foundation approved school food program or contract a supplier who does healthy food, increasing numbers of colleges are doing this.
    Ask the school to eliminate rubbish bins from the lunch area so uneaten food has to go home.
    Only buy the healthy options from the tuck shop menu so those become the mainstays.
    Suggest the school has a “zero waste month” That will eliminate all pre-packaged food from school for 4 weeks giving you a head start on the new regime. 
    Ask the school to put in place a monitored eating time. If the kids, whatever age have to sit for 20 minutes they might as well eat. If they are free to roam around, many of them will not bother.
    Be prepared: 
    Freeze ahead: Scones and muffins, muesli bars and sandwiches made with spread, water bottles, hummus in small re-usable pottles.
    Shop smart: 
    Buy wholegrain bread, rolls and crackers, if that’s all you have that’s what you’ll use
    Plan your snacks: 
    Wholegrain crackers with a spread, rice crackers, popcorn, rice or corn thins, fruit, nuts, dried fruit, vegetables and hummus …
    On Sunday night:
    Chop carrot and celery sticks and store in fridge, hard boil eggs, make jellies and refrigerate, fill yoghurt pottles and prepare snacks such as raisins, nuts etc. in snack bags or pottles. Get the kids to help, make a list and keep on the fridge next time it’s their job.

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