The Healthy Lunchbox - Dr Dominique Scott (PhD; Nutrition Expert; @kindprogression)

The Healthy Lunchbox 

Dr Dominique Scott (PhD; Nutrition Expert; @kindprogression)

We all want what is best for our children and we all wish to do everything in our power to ensure they are healthy and happy.  Ensuring your child has a nutritious, balanced diet is a great place to start, as the nutritional intake of children greatly influences both their health and happiness.

Approximately one third of a child’s daily food intake occurs at school, which illustrates just how important the contents and associated nutritional value of school lunchboxes are.

Unfortunately, it is not always clear what actually constitutes a healthy, balanced diet and even if you do have a sound understanding of nutrition, there is no guarantee your tiny-tot will eat what you give them (can I get an “Amen sista”). It can also feel as though you don’t have the time or the creative inspiration to prepare healthy lunchbox options. So how does one tackle the seemingly impossible feat of packing a lunchbox that will leave our growing youth healthy and happy?

How to effectively pack a nutritious lunchbox will most likely vary across children and families, as we are all beautifully unique, however you may find the following five considerations helpful when you are next on “lunchbox duty”. 


  • Be Prepared 
  • Get organised for the week ahead by stocking up on groceries and essentials over the weekend. Preparing what you can in advance will save you time and stress in the long run. A great example of this is preparing veggie sticks (such as carrots, celery, cucumber) and storing them in a water filled, airtight jar in the fridge.

    Not only does this keep the veggies fresh for longer, it also provides a wonderfully quick and nutritious snack to use consistently in lunchboxes. If you are feeling adventurous, you could also bake some healthy muffins (e.g., include vegetables and exclude refined sugar) or allergy friendly bliss balls for a fun addition to a lunchbox. 

    1. Nutritional Balance

    A balanced nutritional diet will assist in boosting and sustaining children’s energy levels, regulating their emotions, and supporting cognitive function4 (e.g., concentration, memory) throughout the school day. Aim to provide your munchkins food from all five of the major food groups (see below) that have been established and agreed upon by nutritional experts.

    • Fruit: provides vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to protect against disease. Focus on fresh fruits, rather than canned alternatives as these often contain preservatives and added sugar. Dried fruits (e.g., raisins or dates) are alright in small amounts, although can negatively impact on tooth health if consumed frequently and in excess.

  • Vegetables and legumes: provides vitamins, minerals, and fibre for overall body health. Focus on colourful fresh veggies, rather than canned or fried versions (e.g., hot chips). Legumes such as green peas and chickpeas are also a valuable part of this food group. Perhaps include a few snap peas and some falafels or hummus to have with veggie sticks or seed crackers. 
  • Grains: provides fibre for digestive health and sustained fullness. Utilise wholegrain options such as wholegrain breads, brown rice, corn and whole wheat pastas, rather than white grains (e.g., white bread, rice, and pasta) which are heavily processed and nutrient poor. These examples are simple and filling additions to any lunchbox.
    • Protein: provides protein, vitamins, and minerals for muscle and organ health. There is a wide range of beneficial protein options available such as tofu, legumes, seeds, chicken, and eggs. Avoid highly processed protein foods (e.g., ham, hotdogs) as these can contain additives such as sugars, preservatives, and chemicals.
    • Dairy/dairy alternatives: provides calcium and vitamin D for bone and teeth health. Stick to low-fat dairy products (e.g., cheddar cheese) and/or calcium-fortified (e.g., coconut yoghurt) or calcium rich (e.g., tofu, seeds, seaweed, dark leafy greens, broccoli) alternatives wherever possible. 


    1. Variety is Key

    Mix things up! Utilise foods that vary in flavour, texture, colour, smell, and even temperature. Providing variety to your small fries will keep them interested, encourage them to try new things, and will optimise their overall health through exposure to a broad variety of different nutrients.  A great approach to achieving this is to encourage children to “eat a rainbow” every day. When selecting fruit and veggies focus on what is in season as these food items will be fresher, possess greater nutritional value and have the added advantage of being cheaper. 

    1. The Conscious Approach

    Consider choosing organic produce where possible as there are clear benefits from both a health and an environmental standpoint. From a health perspective, organic food is thought to be a wonderful option (if available to you) as there is little to no pesticides found on the food items and their nutritional value if thought to be greater than their non-organic counterparts13.  From an environmental perspective, organic food production considers environmental and social impacts by eliminating the use of synthetic inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides and preservatives14.

    Using reusable, plastic-free lunchboxes and cutlery ensures the food items are not being contaminated by the toxins found in plastic15 and that we are being kind to our precious environment. The durable, stainless-steel, non-toxic and leak proof lunchbox from Goodly Gosh is a wonderfully sized, safe and eco-friendly option. The brand’s coconut cutlery is also a responsible and school smart choice, as they are non-toxic and a safer option for small children than metal alternatives. 


    1. 5. Keep it Fun and Interesting 

    We want to encourage our children to be healthy, but also to have a healthy relationship with food. We can do this by demonstrating that food is fun and interesting, as well as the fuel our brains and bodies need for everything we do. 

    Involve your quick little learners in selecting the fruits and veggies they will be taking to school that week or in making a batch of healthy, allergy-friendly baked goods (e.g., nut-free muesli bars).  Licking the spoon and bowl afterwards is mandatory of course! 

    Where possible, talk to your tots about the benefits of certain foods to reinforce the importance of having them in our diet. For example “Oranges will help protect you from getting sick, because they contain Vitamin C”. Children love to learn, so let us teach them.

    If there is one main thought I will leave you with though, it is lead by example.  Choose healthy food options, involve your little ones with the buying and preparing of food, keep things interesting, make kind and conscious decisions that benefit our youth and environment, and finally try to enjoy the process. Food can and should be fun!


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