Packing healthy lunchboxes, that your kids will eat, can be simple and convenient, even without packet foods. In this article we explore why lunchboxes are so important and how simple they can be to pack.
In Australia, every school term has about 50 days and every school year has about 200 days. That’s a lot of days to pack lunchboxes! Then multiply 200 days by the number of children you have - now that’s a lot of lunchboxes to pack.
Many parents dread packing lunchboxes. Lunchboxes are just another thing on the never-ending to do list of the administration of family life. But what if we changed our mindset around lunchboxes? What if instead of thinking of lunchboxes as a nuisance, we thought about them as a gift for our children?
They’re a gift because the food we pack for their lunch has the power to nourish their body and brain, and help with their learning. Of course, this really depends on the quality of the items we pack in their lunchbox.
Fortunately, I developed a system to pack healthy lunchboxes in about 5 minutes a day – and now I look at every school day as a chance to pack a lunchbox which helps my kids. This is why I am sharing my simple “5 Steps To Pack A Healthy Lunchbox” printable template (below). I’ve also added in some lunchbox ideas for inspiration. Remember to print off this template and stick it on the fridge – it can be a great tool for you but also makes it easy to get your kids involved in packing their lunchboxes.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Nutritionist Jo Atkinson who collaborated with me on this template to help ensure the template remained simple but still ticked the boxes of a nutritionally balanced lunchbox.
Why Are School Lunchboxes So Important?
For many children, lunchbox food makes up to 30-40% of what a child eats Monday to Friday. That means lunchboxes make a pretty significant amount of the daily intake of what a child eats.
Our kids are all growing. They need food which nourishes them, that supports their growth and development. They need food which actually helps their concentration and their ability to learn.
Much of a child’s growth, development and learning happens at school – that’s why we send them, right? So it makes sense that their lunchbox food is important.
Unfortunately, many lunchboxes are loaded with packaged processed foods which do little to nourish our children’s bodies and brains.
In my book The Lunchbox Effect, I shared what a common lunchbox looks like statistically speaking:
- 88% of students bring lunches from home
- 2% had no lunch
- The balance bought some or all of their lunch from the canteen
- 2 packet foods per lunchbox
- 1 fruit per lunchbox
- 0.4 vegetables per lunchbox
- 70% contain a sandwich
- 73% of sandwiches were white bread
- 50% of the sandwiches contained a spread such as Vegemite, honey, jam
With the data collected from almost 6,000 lunchboxes across 343 classes, we were able to determine what an average lunchbox contained, when looking specifically at just the packet foods:
- 29 ingredients
- 3.6 teaspoons of sugar (This is alarming. In terms of the World Health Organisations recommendations, this is about what they should have across the entire day)
- 148mg sodium
- 9 additives, 4 of which can be potentially linked to hyperactivity, learning difficulty and behavioural issues
- 20% of packet foods are chips, 17% are muesli and other sorts of bars, 15% are savoury crackers, 15% are sweet biscuits, 10% are chocolate and lollies, 10% are juices and flavoured milks, 8% are yoghurts and other pouches, the balance is fruit or jelly cups and the like.
The marketing of these packet foods tell us they are convenient, some even claim to be great or perfect for lunchboxes. But are they really? If they have the potential to negatively impact behaviour, concentration, learning, socialisation skills and also health, then doesn’t this cost outweigh the convenience?
Packing healthy lunchboxes can be simple and convenient, even without packet foods. Follow these 5 steps to help you pack healthy lunchboxes.
5 Steps To Pack A Healthy Lunchbox
1. Pack A Fruit
You can’t get more simple or convenient than fruit. It comes in it’s own packet and an added bonus is that this packet doesn’t impact the environment.
Get your kids involved by asking them what fruit they would like in their lunchbox. Ask your kids to choose 1 or 2 types of fruit for the week, then buy them on the weekend. This way you can rotate the fruit so that each day they are having variety.
2. Pack At Least 1 Vegetable
Simple again. Ask your kids to choose at least one vegetable, buy them on the weekend. Then include it in the lunchbox. You may have more success with including vegetables if you include a dip too. You can spend a little time on the weekend to prepare them by cutting them into bite sized pieces if you wish. Spending a little time on the weekend to prepare, can save you valuable minutes during the week when things tend to be more stressful.
3. A Great Main Lunch
Our lunchbox study showed 70% of lunchboxes contained a sandwich but it also showed the majority of these sandwiches are almost devoid of nutrients. But if you pack a great sandwich, it’s totally possible this sandwich will not only support your child’s body and brain but also keep them full so you do not need to pack loads of snacks.
The secret to a great sandwich should include:
a whole grain or sourdough bread preferably
a good quality protein source such as roast chicken or turkey (not the deli meat variety), beef, tofu, beans etc
a healthy fat such as real butter, avocado, whole egg mayonnaise, or hummus
You can read more about what makes a healthy sandwich here.
If your child is unable to have sandwiches or prefers not to eat them, then a great main lunch could be:
leftovers from dinner (this is super easy to pack)
a lunch that includes a whole grain source, protein source and a good fat source.
If you’re eating dairy, then include a dairy source in the main lunch or as an extra to it.
4. Add A Healthy Snack
If you have a great main lunch and have packed fruit and vegetables, you may not need to pack a snack.. However, if your child is used to having snacks or wants snacks because their friends have snacks, then including a homemade snack is a good idea.
The benefit of making your own snack is that you know what’s in it, and you can control the amount of sugar you include. And of course, it’s more likely to be additive and preservative free depending on the ingredients you use.
If you haven’t had time to bake, then consciously choose a snack from the supermarket.
Consciously choosing means ignoring the front of the packet, turn the packet around and reading the ingredients on the back. Make sure you are happy these ingredients are helping your child’s body and brain.
I have published a huge array of healthy lunchbox snack recipes on my website.
5. Include a Water Bottle
Water is the only drink our children require at school. They do not need juice, or even milk. They can have these at home if you wish them to have them. At school, they need water to keep them hydrated and replace the water they use whilst running around and playing.
Send them to school with a reusable water bottle – nothing else – and your children and their teachers will thank you!
Print this template
Click on the image below to print it off.