Let’s talk lunch boxes

Updated: Jul 26, 2021


I’m often told in consultations that the little person I’m seeing is regularly bringing home most of their packed lunch. Sometimes these children have low appetite or are managing medications that are appetite suppressants, and they need support and strategies to get that right.


For all the other children, it usually falls into one of these categories:

· they are ok with the food their parents pack but it is a mismatch to the time allocated for lunch, or

· they hate the food their parents pack for them.


Most primary school children get a small window of 10-15 minutes to eat lunch, this usually includes getting their lunchbox from their bag and packing everything up to get ready to go outside and play, so let’s allocate 5 minutes there. That then leaves fewer than 10 minutes for the actual task of eating. If food needs to be unwrapped, unpeeled or taken out of a container another 30 seconds or minute is lost, depending on the degree of difficulty to extract the food. Now, we’re ready to eat, with about 8 minutes to spare, if we’re being generous.


Many lunchboxes are bento style filled with lots of different foods for children to choose from, it gives variety, feels fun and looks beautiful for Insta. Most things are unwrapped, grouped in cute little sections and easy to access. Perfect, right? Not always.


Wait. What? Why?


It’s really important to get the ratio right. If this beautiful bento is three quarters full of raw veggies that take 20 minutes to eat, the children just don’t have enough time to do all that chewing. I also need to point out the nutritional value they are getting for all that effort, actually, it’s not that much. Don’t get me wrong; fruit and veggies are great for our bodies, they provide lots of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and fibre, but they are light in the way of providing protein and energy. Why does this matter? Energy and protein help children to grow, play and learn. They need adequate fuel for a full day of learning and playing. Which is almost impossible on an empty stomach.


Parents are often shocked to hear that their child doesn’t like the food in their lunch box. Some are putting all the effort into the beautiful bento-style grazing box and the child just wants a simple sandwich. Other parents are packing sandwiches every single day and their child hates hate sandwiches, unbeknown to them. In some cases, the unwanted food comes home, sometimes it’s thrown in the bin or my personal experience, the sandwiches were being flushed down the toilet and we never knew until long after primary school. Not my finest parenting moment, but there’s a lesson to be learnt here.


We need to set these children up to succeed. We need to provide them with foods that match their skills, can be consumed in the time allocated and are appealing. I know, it’s a lot!


Where do we start? Ask your children what they would like. Workshop it, don’t be afraid to look outside the box.

· Its ok to pack an Up ‘n’ Go instead of a sandwich or a thermos with left over dinner.

· Cut and peel fruit for them, use containers that are child friendly with clip locks.

· Reduce the chew load. Limit to one fruit and one veggie, choosing some that are easy to eat (cherry tomatoes, steamed corn on the cob or avocado are great for this).

· Add some dairy and meat or a suitable alternative, to provide enough energy and protein to support a day of learning and playing.


If you are looking for lunchbox inspo check out this link: https://heas.health.vic.gov.au/schools/healthy-lunchboxes#picknmix


If you need more than a link, don’t be afraid to reach out.





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