By Raising Children Network
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When children start at preschool, kinder or school, you might need to start packing a lunch box. Here are some healthy and tasty lunch box ideas to keep your child going through the day.

Schoolgirl eating mango
 

What your child needs to eat each day

A healthy breakfast is essential to getting your child off to a good start in the morning. It will keep energy up and help your child concentrate at preschool, kinder or school. 

When packing your child’s lunch box, consider how long your child will be out of the house:

  • Children who go to child care, kinder or school for six hours a day might need to bring food for morning tea and lunch.
  • Children attending for longer periods also need afternoon tea.

Check if water is available at the child care centre, kinder or school. If not, provide some bottled water, added frozen to the lunch box. Fruit juice, preferably diluted with water, can also be included – but only occasionally. It can lead to tooth decay and a host of other problems.

Lunch box ideas

The common white-bread sandwich isn’t the only lunch box option. Here are some variations:

  • a wholegrain-bread sandwich with a cheese and grated carrot filling
  • pita bread pockets, roll-ups or turkish bread with lean meat or falafel and salad
  • dips such as hummus, along with pita or crackers and vegetable sticks for dunking
  • potato salad, chickpea salad, tabbouleh and leftover pizza, as well as rice and noodle dishes that can be eaten cold.

Rye breads, baguettes and sweetened breads such as challah can all add interest to the humble sandwich. 

If your child refuses anything but white bread, try one of the new low-GI loaves on the market. This will keep your child from getting hungry again too quickly after lunch.

Healthy snack options
Fresh fruit, stewed fruit in natural juice, dried fruit, yoghurt, pieces of cheese, fruit bread, rice cakes, pikelets and crackers all make nutritious snacks.

Sandwich fillings

Sandwich fillings can be quite adventurous. You might like to try adding grated carrot or beetroot, sliced red cabbage, raisins or sultanas, sliced apple or fresh herbs to liven things up. Here are a few tasty sandwich combinations:

  • tasty cheese, pineapple (drain and pat dry with kitchen paper) and lettuce
  • tasty cheese and chutney
  • Swiss cheese and sliced gherkin (pickled cucumber)
  • cottage cheese or ricotta and chives
  • cottage cheese or ricotta and dates
  • brie and cranberry sauce
  • curried egg or mashed boiled egg and lettuce
  • mashed egg and chives, dill or parsley
  • omelette, tomato and rocket
  • apple and raisin
  • chicken (make sure it’s well cooked and fresh), mayo and celery
  • chicken, pesto and red capsicum
  • avocado (squeeze on some lemon juice to stop it going brown), tomato (remove seeds to stop bread going soggy) and coriander
  • canned tuna, stuffed green olives, tomato (remove seeds), boiled egg and lettuce (some mashed anchovy is a nice addition if your child likes it).

Luncheon meats such as salami, mortadella, Strasburg, smoked turkey, pastrami and ham are highly processed, salty and can be fatty. They also have added chemicals such as nitrates that aren’t very healthy. So you might want to save these for every now and then, rather than packing them every day.

Seasoned and baked tofu (available ready-made) is often a big hit with kids and a tasty alternative to meat.

Check the ‘allowable’ foods policy at your child’s centre, kinder or school. Many centres and schools ask that you do not pack certain foods – for example, eggs or anything with nuts. This is usually to protect children with allergies from coming into contact with those foods.

Getting kids to eat their lunch

Kids usually want to eat quickly so that they can go and play. To make sandwiches and other food easy to eat:

  • Keep servings small.
  • Cut bread into thin slices.
  • Cut sandwiches into quarters to make them easier to manage.
  • Don’t overdo the amount of sandwich filling.
  • Avoid soggy and drippy sandwiches by keeping spreads to a minimum and removing seeds from tomatoes.
  • Drain juices from fruit and anything else that contains liquid, such as casserole or stew. Anything that is messy to eat will be off-putting to your child.
  • Go for small fruits such as berries and apricots. Cut larger fruits into pieces that your child can eat easily and quickly.
  • Make sure that containers seal well but can be opened easily by your child – do a test at home. It might be that your child isn’t eating lunch because it’s hard to get at!
If there’s no other choice, your child is more likely to eat the healthy food you’ve packed. So limit sweet snacks (for example, chocolate, lollies and muesli bars) as well as salty, fatty ones (for example, packets of chips). These are all low in nutrients but high in calories. 

Keeping food fresh and safe

Before preparing your child’s lunch box, always wash your hands well with warm soapy water. Make sure all chopping boards and utensils are clean and dry.

Any lunch box containing meat, fish, chicken, eggs, noodles, rice, pasta, custard, yoghurt, cheese or milk needs to be kept cold. This will stop the growth of harmful bacteria, which could make your child sick.

If you make your child’s lunch the night before, keep it in the fridge (below 5°C) overnight. In the morning, add a frozen drink (preferably water) to the lunch box to keep it cool until lunch time.

Waxed paper can be a better option for wrapping than plastic. It’s easier for children to manage (and less polluting). An insulated lunch box is also a good idea, because it will keep the food inside nice and cool. A thermos will keep foods such as soup and pasta hot.

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  • Last Updated 17-12-2009
  • Last Reviewed 12-10-2009
  • Department of Health and Aged Care. (1998). The Australian guide to healthy eating. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

    National Health and Medical Research Council (2003). Dietary guidelines for children and adolescents in Australia. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service