Complexities of the School Lunch Box

By Aimee Ramler, APD.

Paediatric Dietitian


Lets start with some hard, Lunch Box FACTS…..

  1. A child will eat at least one third of their total food intake for the day during school times.
  2. Good nutrition before and during school can help your child stay alert in class, and be energised for the full day.
  3. Nutritious snacks contribute significantly towards meeting your child’s daily nutrition requirements.
  4. Snacks can be in the form of drinks or food and are an essential part of a growing child’s needs.


The aim of this blog is to give parents some tips on how to navigate through the minefield of:

“mum I HATE my lunch” or  “dad your lunches are soooo boring”…….all while trying to keep things as simple as possible.

With many Victorian schools having taken on the role of food police, more and more pressure is being placed on parents to perform in the lunch box packing arena. Let’s start this discussion by looking at the ‘division of responsibility’ (reference by Ellen Satter).

Division of responsibility:

Parent / Guardian.  Your role – decide the WHAT/WHEN/WHERE of feeding

Child.  Your role – decide HOW MUCH is consumed


Ok, so maybe this doesn’t work exactly to plan when we think about school times. But, mum or dad can still decide the WHAT – what goes in to the lunch, and the school will take some of the responsibility in that they will decide the WHEN – when the child will eat and the WHERE- where will they eat their lunch (i.e. the canteen, playground, classroom). The child is still able to undertake the role of deciding HOW MUCH of their packed lunch they will consume.

Now on to the million dollar question…

What should be in the lunch box?

I hear grandma shouting that back in her day “a paper bag with a sandwich and piece of fruit did the trick”. Unfortunately, things have become a lot more complex since those days, and the supermarkets are now filled with lunch box options for kids.

Each family needs to consider what works for them. They need to consider culture, finances, child and family likes and dislikes, timing available for food preparation, and accessibility to food. Highlighting this to your children at an age appropriate level might help them understand why their best friend might have a packed lunch that looks very different to their own everyday, or why Sally is allowed canteen every day and they are only allowed it once a month.

Here are some tips for helping your child’s lunchbox meet both their needs for growth and be appealing enough for them to eat it:

  • Planning: Make sure you stock up on enough fruits, veggies, breads and fillings at the start of the week. Keeping the fridge well stocked will promote keeping your child’s lunch filled with fresh produce. Use the freezer for baked goods such as savoury or fruit muffins, and for different types of breads. This can help keep the lunches nutritious towards the end of the week when the fridge supply gets low, and keep the variety up. Which will hopefully enhance the likelihood that the kids will gobble up their lunches all week long.


  • Get ahead: Use dinner preparation time the night before as a time to start prepping for school lunches. Can you wash the veggies you will send in the lunch whilst making the salad for dinner? Can you shred the left-over chicken into a container ready to be placed into the sandwich the next morning whilst clearing up the table? Can you boil the eggs for the egg salad sandwich whilst the pasta is cooking for dinner? Can you wash the grapes and place them in containers ready for the lunch boxes in the morning whilst dessert is being chopped up? Planning ahead will help in keeping variety and freshness in the lunchbox.


  • Variety: Aim for different fruits and veggies, different breads and fillings, different snack choices as often as possible. Use fruits that are in season, and in summer you can try freezing some fruits to keep things fun and colourful! Using the freezer can help keep variety up by defrosting different flavour muffins for each of day of the week, without having to be Martha Stewart every single day.


  • Easy to eat foods: Children are often busy talking to friends, playing tag, or joining in a lunchtime activity. Keep lunch box foods easy to grab and eat on the go, and prevent them having to spend a long time opening up lots of containers and eating foods that take a long time to chew and eat.


  • Think Dairy: Dairy based foods and drinks (with appropriate insulation in the lunchbox in warmer weather) are a great source of calcium for your child’s bone strength and growth, and will also provide them with slow release energy to keep them alert in class in for longer. Keeping the fridge well stocked with yogurts, cheese and smoothies will promote these items making their way into the school lunchbox.


  • Involve the kids: Speak to your child about what they would like to see in their sandwich or lunch box, let them help with the muffin baking on the weekend, and ask them what some of their friends have in their lunch that looks yum to keep the variety and interest levels high.


To recap…lunchbox packing is a hard role that parents are granted the day their child starts school. Unfortunately, we are stuck with this joyous role for the duration of our child’s schooling. So let’s all try to share our great tips and tricks with our fellow comrades, and make the experience as positive as it can be for all involved.

Happy lunching ….






Ellen Satter. 2017. Ellen Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 6 June 2017].