The thought of packing lunch boxes fills many parents with dread.

The food industry has led us to believe we need to buy lots of little packets of stuff to go in lunch boxes (creating lots of packaging waste, and costing a fortune).

Instagram makes us think our lunch box must be picture perfect, with little scrolls of this or cut out shapes of that.

Lunch boxes don’t have to be complicated, or processed.

Here are my 5 golden rules to packing a lunch box.

2-3 serves of vegetables in the lunch box

Children need 5 serves of veg a day – you can’t fit it all into dinner.  Veggies need to be spread through the day, and then the 5 serves is easy to achieve.  Try and get one serve in crunch and sip and one serve in lunch.  If you have managed to get some veggies in at breakfast (like avocado), then you only need 2 more at dinner.

Put some veggies in small container for crunch and sip.  There are obvious choices, like carrots and capsicum, but don’t limit yourself.  Celery, cherry tomatoes, snow peas, cooked green bean, roasted broccoli, sweet potato chips…..the list is endless.

Use a variety of raw, cooked or fermented veggies.  If your child’s gut health isn’t fantastic, cooked veggies will be easier to digest.  Carrots are easily fermented, and will really supercharge the lunch box.

Veggies feed gut bacteria.  This will improve mood, concentration, immunity and behaviour

Include 1 serve of fruit

Most children I work with are eating lots of fruit, and not enough vegetables.  Instead of having 5 serves of vegetables a day and 2 serves of fruit, they are getting 5 serves of fruit and 2 serves of vegetables.  Although fruit is healthy, with lots of nutrients and lots of fibre, it does contain a lot of sugar.  Vegetables tend to be higher in nutrients and much lower in sugar, so better for stabilising mood and behaviour.

Dried fruit is high in sugar and sticky.  As your child won’t be brushing their teeth for a long time, dried fruit shouldn’t be in the lunch box.

“Fruit snacks” are just a fancy name for lollies, so they shouldn’t be in lunch boxes or canteens, as they are full of sugar.

If your child doesn’t like fruit, include more vegetables.  There is no problem if your child doesn’t like any fruit, just aim for 7 veggies instead.

Remember cut up fruit will get eaten quicker than whole fruit, especially for younger kids.  If you send a whole apple, you will likely find it comes back the same way it went in.  So chop it up into pieces.

Minimise treats

A treat is an item that is out of the ordinary, so a treat is not for every day.

Fill the lunch box with fruit, vegetables, meat or meat substitute.

If you love to bake for your child, choose recipes based on seeds (linseeds or sunflower seeds) or vegetables (pumpkin or sweet potato) as a base.  There are lots of recipes on my website, like these chocolate zucchini muffins

White flour baked products are high glycaemic index.  Your child will be bouncing off the walls straight after lunch, followed by an energy slump where they will be unable to focus for the afternoon lessons.

Many snack foods  contain artificial colours, flavours and preservatives which are linked to hyperactivity.  The effect of these can be so extreme that Europe makes food manufacturers put warnings on food that contains them, similar to cigarette packaging.

Include protein and fat

Protein and fat will keeps your child full and able to focus.  They do this by stabilising blood sugar (so stabilising mood).

Include high quality protein source every day (meatballs, roast meat, boiled egg, organic sausage, baked salmon).  The portion sizes do not need to be massive.  It is more important to have small amounts frequently.

Drink water

Never put anything other than water in your child’s water bottle.

Even juice has high amounts of sugar , which is bad for teeth, bad for blood sugar.

Waste free days

Some day you might be encouraged to send food in reusable containers only, no packets.  Do not open the packet at home and tip into container.  Choose food that is not packaged

Food Safety

A common concern parents have with non-processed food in the lunchbox is food safety.  Pop a frozen ice brick in your child’s insulated lunch box, and the food will be fine.  For more about lunch box safety, read this

Allergies

Check with your school which foods are to be avoided.  Choose tahini or sunflower seed butter instead of peanut butter.  Most importantly – teach your child never to share their food.

Where to next?

If you would like to discuss your child’s diet with someone in the know, make an appointment using this link.