School Lunches

The dilemma of what to pack for school lunches increases as the year progresses. After a good breakfast, lunch is the next major fuel stop for kids. Skip breakfast and lunch is often eaten at morning tea, leaving insufficient fuel and nutrients for afternoon learning and activity.

Kids's School Lunches with a Healthy Edge

The dilemma of what to pack for school lunches increases as the year progresses.  After a good breakfast, lunch is the next major fuel stop for kids.  Skip breakfast and lunch is often eaten at morning tea, leaving insufficient fuel and nutrients for afternoon learning and activity. 
Lunch should supply a portion (1/4-1/3rd) of the daily nutrient and energy needs for growth, activity and repair of tissues.  A balanced lunch includes a range of foods and nutrients.  First, some breads, rice, potato, pasta, couscous, tabbouleh, noodles or other major form of carbohydrate for fuelling muscles and brain function.  Next, some protein such as lean meats, ham, canned fish, egg, chicken, thin slices cheese, yoghurts, hummus, peanut butter, baked beans and bean salad and always a serving or two of fruit or vegetables (or both).  Fruit can be fresh, canned or dried (fruit strips or leathers are a treat) and vegetables can be carrot sticks, cold cooked corn on the cob, salsa or salad in sandwiches.  Including a variety of different fruits and vegetables keeps lunch interesting, and for some kids these may need to be peeled, chopped or diced to encourage intake.  Fruit set in a low sugar juice jelly is another option.  Getting kids involved in making their own lunch can increase acceptance.
Always includes some fluids –water, diluted juice and milks for hydration and thirst.  When returning to school kids do not have ready access to a source of water unless water bottles (containing only water!) are permitted in the classroom.  As a consequence kids may fail to maintain a hydrated state in hot classrooms leading to early fatigue and poor concentration.  To make water more palatable and easier to drink, fill the drink bottle 1/3 with water and freeze over night.  In the morning fill with water from the tap or with diluted juice.  Cool water tastes better, and as the water thaws it also keeps the lunch cool.  Cartons of juice and milks freeze well and are thawed by lunch time; or make your own fruit juice, fruit smoothies, milk drinks and freeze overnight.
In summer, make sandwiches the night before and freeze (take care not to include tomato, lettuce or other ingredients that do not freeze well). Sandwiches can be made with frozen bread.  Note: do not freeze yoghurt. 
Treats in the lunch box are fine (and not included everyday).  Once or twice a week is suitable.  For kids with body weight issues choose lower kilojoule treats and snacks (keep under or around 400 kJ or 100 calories –see below), while active kids may need more.
Lunch Time suggestions:
Sandwiches often become boring, even though some kids eat the same thing day in and day out.  Varying the bread can provide variety and interest.  Encourage all kids over the age of 10 years to eat wholemeal or wholegrain breads (start with one slice of white and one wholemeal with a favourite filling).  Other variations include bagels, baps, panini, fruit buns, wraps, muffins splits (made into pizzas), pita pockets filled (or made into pizzas), or various types and shapes of rolls.  Remember that white bread is still suitable for kids (especially younger children).  Other options for lunch include sushi, rice and pasta salads with added vegetables and lean meats (chopped ham, chicken, egg, luncheon, tuna or salmon) and even cold cooked noodles with added protein and vegetables. Try pikelets or pancakes with added fruit and some kids actually like cold spaghetti or macaroni cheese in a container.  Remember; just because you don’t like a food don’t deny your child or grandchild the chance to experiment with new foods. 
Make a batch or two of muffins (freeze if any are left over) with fruit and vegetables – carrot and pineapple, carrot and raisins, carrot and zucchini, banana and dried apricot, banana and date – rather than sweet muffins, for variety.  Involving kids in making the muffins increases interest and acceptance.  Biscuits with fruit and oats can also be included.  Fruit salad with slices of cheese and carrot make a fun lunch. 
Special treats can be placed in lunch boxes once or twice a week.  For birthdays and special days treats are fun and make the day a little more special.   Coated muesli bars, chips, corn chips, cakes, pies, pastry items and sweets can be included in lunches occasionally.  It is important they are eaten in addition to other lunch foods to provide a balanced nutritional intake. A regular imbalance in nutritional intake may result in an underweight or overweight child. 
  • Mini salads (rice, fruit, pasta, potato, bean salad) in plastic containers
  •  Muffins: fruit, savoury or combination – cheese and pineapple
  • Pizza bases made from scone mix, pita bread, rice cakes, muffin splits and topped with spaghetti, tomato and cheese, grilled and eaten cold.
  • Hamburgers (with leftover cold meat, sausages, or meat patties),
  • Ham or chicken filled wraps
  • Toasted sandwiches with leftover vegetables (corn, potato, kumara, baked beans with a little grilled bacon)
  • Cold toasted baked bean, spaghetti, or sweet corn sandwiches
  • Fill a small plastic bag with a selection of dried fruit and plain nuts
  • Make a small container of chopped vegetable sticks (peppers, celery, carrot, cucumber, courgettes and broccoli)
  • Corn on the cob, stuffed potato with cheese and pineapple
  • One serving of nachos with a little grated cheese
  •  Cut fruit into bite size servings or pieces and wrap in plastic foil for smaller children (oranges, kiwi fruit, apples, pears).  Grapes are easy to eat.
  • Homemade muesli bars.  Check the sugar and fat level of commercial bars!
Lower kilojoule snacks and lunch options:
  • Break up rice cakes and mix with chopped dried fruit or raisins
  • Plain popcorn with raisins and a dew plain nuts (almonds)
  • Pretzels (20-30g) or chunky breakfast cereal as snacks
  • Diet yoghurts or fruit set in diet jelly
  • Homemade low fat milk smoothies
  • Low fat crackers with hummus
  • Carrot sticks with hummus
  • Celery sticks with salsa
  • Wedges or slices of melon
  • Rice cakes with thin spread of peanut butter or cottage cheese and mixed fruit

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