"I would fail a school ‘lunchbox audit’. And I’m not ashamed."

As a lightly seasoned school mum (now in my fourth year of school parenting and just how I like my KFC chips) I had hoped that perhaps one positive of 2020 - for some of us at least - of not having to pack lunchboxes every day, would provide some lunchbox perspective. 

Unfortunately, though, like the remainder of 2020, I was let down. Because lunchboxes are still impossible to get right.

I know, I know, not more stories about lunchboxes, I hear you, I do. But for many mums and dads or lunchbox packers out there, this is one of the biggest irks. And the continual pressure about all areas of lunchboxes inside and out that is placed upon us, well it just won’t stop. 

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Before I get started, a few facts about 99 per cent of parents:

  1. Ultimately, as parents we want to ensure that our child is healthy. Pretty obvious.
  2.  We also want to ensure we are good role models and follow the expectations and guidelines of the school our kids attend. 
  3. And finally, we also want to enjoy life, which for many of us does not involve pre-planning lunch boxes for our children for weeks in advance, spending an entire weekend in the kitchen baking banana bread or air popping popcorn. Yes, we want a life and heck even want to spend time with our kids.

It seems though, at many schools, these three desires cannot co-exist - not possible - because of the rules and expectations about what can and cannot go into a lunch box. 

I understand banned foods for allergy reasons. Others though are about ensuring you as a parent are responsible for your child having a healthy array of lunch and snacks. And while in theory this seems harmless, even positive, it is when you start reading in between the lines that the over the top expectations become clear. 

May I present exhibit one: An article I came across, titled ‘Unrealistic’ school lunchbox suggestions adding pressure on parents which explains how far some our schools are going to control all things lunchbox. 

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Some schools are now implementing ideas from the Victorian Better Health Channel, one of which suggests parents "beat kids' boredom by packing a different lunch every day, cut sandwiches in interesting ways or buy the 'latest fashion in lunchboxes'".

Other schools are trying to encourage healthy lunchboxes by asking parents to bake food "from scratch where possible". Does a sandwich count?  

Others are asking for parents to supply food that meets the different six food groups. 

Now when I first read this, I recalled my school days with that healthy food pyramid and thought, that’s not too bad. Some bread, some fruit and a Rollup – three ticks. But no, apparently these food groups have changed. Because the food groups they are referring to are: 

1. Grain foods


2. Vegetables and legumes

3. Fruit

4. Milk, yoghurt, cheese

5. Lean meat, fish, eggs, poultry, nuts 

6. Water (when did water become a food group?? Or a food?)

If this wasn’t enough, there are also school lunch menu planners which have ideas for every day of the week provided to parents to assist them with their lunchbox preparation. 

One of my favourite snack ideas in one of these planners was the ‘celery boat’ with low fat cream cheese and sultanas. 

Because while I am appreciative of the effort made to help time poor parents with ideas, if I gave my children a celery boat, I know that it would come sailing right back home again at the end of the day.

But it’s not just ticking off the food groups, it is also about what we are putting the foods into, or the fact that we shouldn’t be putting them in anything. 

Yes, I’m referring to the ‘nude food’ schools that ban packaging. Well I am sorry, but I will still purchase pre-packaged popcorn even if I have to repackage it into a container and I am not ashamed.  

As an average Joe of the parenting world, this is all just too much. 

If you were to undertake a lunchbox audit on my two children’s lunchboxes on any given day, I would fail, because other than a sandwich, nothing is made from scratch. 

There are a couple of pieces of fruit, usually a muesli bar or packaged popcorn and a sandwich with mayo slathered in it because that is all my child will eat.  

And sometimes, sometimes there is even a cookie, or a piece of chocolate - because I will forever be a lunchbox failure.  

Shona Hendley is a freelance writer and ex-secondary school teacher. You can follow her on Instagram: @shonamarion.

Feature Image: Getty.

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