18 January, 2022
How to make a nutritious lunchbox
With the new school year fast approaching, it’s a great time to start implementing healthy habits and choices for your children. School hours are when children are most mentally active - absorbing new skills and information taught to them. Fuelling them with a healthy, varied diet plays a vital role in having the energy, concentration, and stamina to last the school day, while retaining as much as they can without feeling too exhausted.
The 5 food groups, which are part of the Australian Dietary Guidelines, are a great place to start when trying to build a healthy lunch box for your child.
How much Fruit & Veg is Recommended for School Kids?
Each day your child should consume:
- Vegetables and legumes/ beans: 2 ½ to 5 ½ serves a day
- Fruit: 1-2 serves a day
- Grain foods: 4-7 serves a day
- Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans: 1- 2 ½ serves a day
- Milk, yoghurt cheese and/or alternatives: 1 ½ - 3 ½ serves a day
The number of serves goes up as the child’s age increases. The lower end of the recommendation is for kids 2-3 years of age and the upper end for teenagers 14-18 years old. For example, 2.5 serves of veggies or beans for a 2 year old but 5.5 serves for a 15 year old.
More age-specific information can be found here.
What's a Serve?
A Serve of Vegetables
- 1/2 cup of cooked veggies
- 1/2 cup of cooked beans or lentils
- 1 cup of salad or raw veggies
- 1 tomato
- 1/2 potato
A Serve of Fruit
- 1 medium piece of fruit such as apple or banana
- 2 small pieces of fruit such as apricots, kiwi or plum
- 1 cup of canned fruit
A Serve of Grains
- 1 slice of bread
- 1/2 medium roll
- 1/2 cup cooked rice, pasta, noodles, porridge, etc
A Serve of Protein
- 2 large eggs
- 65g of cooked red meat which is about 90-100g before cooking
- 80g cooked chicken or turkey
- 1 cup lentils, chickpeas and split peas
- 30g nuts
A Serve of Diary
- 1 cup milk
- 2 slices of hard cheese
- 3/4 cup of yoghurt
What are some ways we can ensure our children are eating well during the day?
- Keep in mind the 5 food groups and try to include them in lunch and snack options.
- Pack your child’s lunchbox the night before, if possible, to help ensure everything is ready to go in the morning.
- Pack foods in individual compartments such as sandwich/wrap/ pasta in one section, chopped vegetables/ fruit/ cheese/ yoghurt tub in another section. This can be more appealing.
- Ensure the contents of your child’s lunchbox is kept cool so they don’t spoil during the day. A cooler bag lunch box is a great way to keep food cold. The aim would be to put it in the fridge overnight (with the next day’s lunch and snacks already inside if possible) so the bag can keep cold. Add ice blocks around the edges of the lunchbox or add a frozen or cold drink bottle in the lunch bag.
Healthy lunch box ideas
- Rainbow fruit skewers and vegetable kebabs. This could comprise of 1 cup of chopped fruit, 1-1 ½ cups of chopped vegetables.
- Zebra sandwiches – a sandwich made up of one slice white bread, one slice wholemeal bread. An example of a filling could be: add in ½ -1 cup salad ingredients,1 slice of cheese and 1 egg
- Crackers with dip and chopped vegetables
- Cheese and crackers
- Oat and apple cookies
- Homemade banana bread with no added sugar
- Sushi/ rice paper rolls
- Egg and vegetable muffins. Each muffin could include: 1 egg, 2 tablespoons of vegetables, sprinkle of cheese.
- Plan meals the night before using the 5 food groups for guidance what to pack
- Rotate lunchbox ideas so that your child has a variety of nutrients and creates interest
About the Author
Carla Battaglia - Senior Paediatric Dietitian & Nutritionist
With only 6% of Aussie kids meeting their dietary requirements, Accredited Practicing Dietitian Carla is passionate about changing this statistic. Carla has completed post-graduate training in paediatric health & nutrition. She sees kids and families with gut conditions, allergies / intolerances, fussy eating and weight management.