We constantly hear from people struggling with the daily lunch box drill- if you feel like you are losing the plot when it comes to healthy easy inexpensive kids lunchboxes, here up some easy ways of sprucing up the school day fuel.

Lunch boxes are school fuel. A recent study showed that preschool children would declare anything wrapped in McDonalds packaging tastier than the same food in plain packaging, including raw veggies and fruit.
So it just goes to prove that presentation is everything with kids.

Lunch is important fuel for kids at school
They need foods that will keep them energised so they can concentrate. It must be portable, hygienic, nourishing, appetising and affordable.
A homemade lunch can do all that, the trick is to be organised in advance or by Wednesday you’ll be scrabbling in the back of the pantry or making an emergency dash to the supermarket for anything easy to chuck in the lunch box.

According to a Massey University, are only 1 in 10 kid’s lunchboxes meeting the nutritional guidelines. How do we stop the 80% of the healthy food they did find from being thrown away untouched?

A School lunch must sustain a growing body through periods of high energy activity – playtime, jump jam and sport; as well fuelling the brain for extended periods of concentration. But many school lunchboxes look like a portable party, with Chippies, chocolate biscuits, juice and jelly completely lacking in good quality “fuel” resulting in flagging energy. The kids concentration then wavers and teachers struggle to keep the kids engaged.
Some schools have instituted “brain break” a snack between morning tea and lunch, to try and help the kids concentrate.

And some kids (often boys) simply won’t eat their lunch, even if it’s chock full of treat foods, because they’re just too busy playing. I confess to only packing lunch for my son so I don’t get sent to the home for bad mummies. I know he isn’t going to eat it. When he gets home he happily eats both lunch and afternoon tea and puts away a good dinner too. He just doesn’t want to eat at lunchtime.

Bribery and corruption: Introduce sweetie treatie Friday, if they’ve eaten their lunch properly all week, done their homework and learned the spelling words they can choose a treat to include in the lunch box once a week.

Save Money and improve the nutritional value of the kids lunch
Parents make the nutritional decisions not the kids

Keep treat foods as treats: Chippies etc aren’t everyday snacks, they’re occasional treat foods.
Spend less on pre packaged snack foods and redirect the money to appealing, healthy fresh foods:
Baby carrots
Cherry tomatoes
Dried fruits and nuts
Re useable containers for yoghurts, jellies and dips
Buy plastic spoons so you won’t be upset when they lose them – which they will.

A slice of bread costs roughly 10 c
An egg costs roughly 27 c
A carrot costs roughly 37c
An apple costs roughly 25 c

A pie costs roughly $1.50
A juice box costs roughly 67c
A chippie packet costs roughly 38c
An LCM costs roughly 44 c

Try these lunch box Substitutes:
Swap chippies for bagel crisps or homemade croutons.
Swap biscuits for crackers with marmite or honey
Swap white bread for whole grain – ignore the arguments
Swap juice for water
Swap sugary snacks for popcorn, scroggin or crackers
Swap plain jelly for jelly with chunks of fruit
Swap dairy food for Yoghurt with grapes, strawberries or other fruit to dunk
Swap the lunch order for a magazine or movie voucher

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.

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, and pack cherry tomatoes and some carrot sticks or snow peas to eat separately.

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.

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.
Large Apples, Oranges and bananas are all too often left uneaten as they take too long, interfering with playtime/socialising.

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.

Don’t disparage spreads:
Don’t disparage spreads: peanut butter, honey, marmite or jam on whole grain bread makes a quick, tasty, cheap sandwich. It doesn’t have to be a banquet every day. Spreads are ideal for making Shape sammies – Use cookie cutters to cut the sandwich into a variety of appetising mouthfuls, or remove the crusts and press two slices of bread together end to end making one long slice – add your spread – jam, nutella, Marmite and grated Cheese… then roll up firmly then slice into pinwheels.

Be realistic:
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.
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:
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.

Ask the school to introduce a no junk food policy for lunch boxes – a number of primary schools, pre schools and kindy’s already do this.

Encourage the school to allow water bottles in the classroom, and discourage juice.

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:
The Sunday stock up:
Bake a batch of Scones or muffins – they’re cheap, filling and freeze really well. A regular size muffin will be fully defrosted by morning tea time. Freezing also means they’re out of sight so less likely to be scoffed before they make it to the lunch boxes.

Prepare a snack station in the fridge with homemade jellies in reusable pottles, sliced or grated vegetables for sandwiches or nibbling, lunch box fruits and fill pottles of yoghurt. Jelly made from 1 packet and 1 can of sliced peaches drained and chopped fills 4 small plastic containers and takes less than 5 minutes to prepare.

Chop carrot and celery sticks and store in fridge
Hard boil eggs
Make jellies and refrigerate
Fill yoghurt pottles
Wrap homemade muesli bars in plastic wrap so they are easy to grab in the morning mayhem.

Plan your snacks: Wholegrain crackers with a spread, rice crackers, popcorn, rice or corn thins, fruit, nuts, dried fruit, vegetables and hummus …

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.

Freeze ahead: Scones and muffins, muesli bars and sandwiches made with spread (not jam, it goes yucky), 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

Ask the school to introduce a no junk food policy for lunch boxes – a number of primary schools, pre schools and kindy’s already do this. Most of the “junk” is the pricy stuff. 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 eliminate rubbish bins from the lunch area so uneaten food has to go home then you know what is actually being eaten

Sandwiches are still the cheapest and easiest food for the lunchbox – I pay around $2.99 for a loaf of house brand toast sliced whole grain bread or 16c per slice.
A basic lunch box might contain:2 slices of bread cost – around 32c
2 teaspoons of peanut butter (house brand again), 8c
Carrot cut in sticks, 24c
2 pieces of seasonal fruit, 40c
1 hard boiled egg, 26c
1 slice of cheese, 21c per slice
50g raisins – 41c
Rice crackers or low fat crackers – 39c
Bottle of water – free

Total cost roughly $2.31

lunchbox2Healthy lunch box food is not expensive; making it appetising to kids brought up with the rustle of cellophane wrapped lunch box stuffers just takes a little creativity.

Sandwiches: If the filling is a simple spread or slice of ham, luncheon or Baloney use shaped cookie cutters to make it more exciting, stamp out a star or heart or animal shape from the middle. Make “Club sandwiches” use 3 slices of bread and layer them – cheese, lettuce and marmite, Peanut butter and honey, Sausage and tomato sauce…

Pinwheel sandwiches – roll long wise and slice like sushi – wrap tightly in cling film to keep them rolled.

Vary the selection with rolls or wraps but keep the fillings simple. I often find kids don’t like sandwiches stuffed with salad but will eat a plain sandwich, then eat carrot sticks, then eat a couple of cherry tomatoes or some snow peas or sprouts… it makes the lunch seem more interesting to them if there are lots of little bits and pieces.