A paediatric nutritionist says this is the formula for a perfect kid's lunch box.

Can you believe that the school holidays are almost over?! This is often a time filled with emotion – excitement, apprehension, nostalgia and even relief for some families (wink wink!)

As parents, we know that back to school also means the daily packed lunch box. For many, this can be a source of frustration and stress, especially when packing for more than one, whilst trying to make the contents varied, inspiring, nutritious and enjoyable at the same time.

In my book, I feature a range of lunch box menu planners to suit busy families and fussy little eaters.

A great way to get kids excited about their lunches is to include them in your planning and shopping. Ask them what they would like to eat, and talk to them about the importance of healthy food and how it will sustain them through the day. Get them to help pack their lunches the evening before (this will also help keep the morning rush stress levels down).

Important elements to keep in mind when packing lunches (as well as ensuring everything is healthy and delicious) – are hydration and storage. Ensure your little ones stay well hydrated with plenty of water plus fresh fruit and veg such as watermelon and cucumber.

Keeping their food cool is vital too. Include a small ice pack in their lunch box to help keep food fresh and safe throughout the day.

What to include:

  • Fresh crunchy vegetables (capsicum, carrot, cucumber)
  • Calcium rich foods (cheese, tahini, natural yoghurt)
  • Protein (lean meat, salmon, tuna or a hard-boiled egg)
  • Wholegrains (sourdough wholegrain bread, wholemeal flat bread or seeded crackers)
  • Healthy fats (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, avocado)
  • Fresh fruit (berries, mango, apple)
  • Of course, water.

If your little ones are used to juice, I suggest diluting this down, with the intention of moving to water eventually.


The main meal.

It’s ideal to always ensure that there’s a rich source of protein on offer when kids open their lunchboxes. This is the best way to stabilise blood sugar levels and increase concentration span. For a hearty protein-rich lunch that will sustain your little one through the day, try our mini salmon quiches, sweet potato pikelets or lamb koftas.

Don’t feel that main meal options should be limited to cold foods. Include warm options too, like spaghetti bolognese, veggie packed wholegrain pasta with sauce and other options like roasted mixed veggies or sweet potato wedges, which can be easily cooked in advance and then heat up in the morning and put in a Thermos style container so the food is still warm at lunch time.


These recipes come fully kid-approved, simple, tasty, nutritious and can be made in batches and frozen ahead of time, making them extremely convenient.

Super snacks.

Try to steer away from providing pre-packaged snacks which can be high in sugar, salt and unhealthy fats. It’s a good idea to train your children not to expect their food to only arrive in brightly coloured “one serve” packaging – rather start to interest them in creating their own little snack packs, which also teaches them that non-processed and pre-packaged snacks are enjoyable options.

Keep snacks nutritious, healthy, fresh and colourful. Simple and easy ideas include popcorn, brown rice sesame crackers, cut up veggies with dips, veggie and fruit skewers, trail mixes, a mini fruit salad of mixed berries, and cubes of cheese. Being prepared definitely help, and I’m a big advocate of bulk cooking and freezing.

Some of our popular and simple Wholesome Child snacks include: banana bread, raspberry and pear muffins and apricot and coconut muesli bars. These are all very easy to make and far superior to store-bought options that can contain hidden nasties.

There’s no need to plunge in at the deep end and stop all your old favourites at once. With kids it’s best to start out slowly, and together learn what they like, what they’re not so keen on, and what they’d like to help you create for their school snacks.


LISTEN: Masterhcef whiz, Julie Goodwin shares her top lunchbox tips on Mamamia’s I Don’t Know How She Does It podcast (post continues after audio…)

The lunch box itself is important, too!

Stainless steel lunch boxes are eco-friendly and have great compartments for little hands. We love the Bento-style boxes as these add an element of choice and variety – they also look far more appetising to little ones who may be somewhat fussier than others and prefer to keep their different foods separate from one another.

Some children love their sandwiches, so rather than trying to permanently steer them away from this choice, try some of these nutritious sandwich spread alternatives for variety and boosted nutritional intake:

  • Miso paste and sunflower seed butter instead of vegemite
  • Avocado and ricotta cheese
  • Butternut hummus
  • Mashed egg with mayonnaise and grated carrot and touch of sweet paprika (for a non mayo dressing substitute with full cream yoghurt, 1 tsp Dijon mustard and olive oil)
  • A cheese toastie with added veggies – spread wholegrain bread with sweet potato or pumpkin puree before toasting for a veggie boost
  • Coconut oil, cinnamon, banana and ricotta cheese

Whilst sandwiches are an easy option for many families, variety is also key and teaching children to eat and enjoy lunch choices other than sandwiches is a great way to expose them to new foods and further increase their nutrient intake. Some great alternate sandwich options include: sushi rolls, rice paper rolls, cheese scrolls, wraps with healthy fillings or cauliflower pizza bases with melted cheese.

Visit the Wholesome Child website to learn more about Mandy Sacher. Her book Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook is available for purchase online and through iTunes. Connect with Mandy on Instagram and Facebook. If you’d like more practical advice on nutritional lunch box ideas, then you may be interested in Mandy’s workshop: Wholesome Child Lunchbox Solutions.  For more information contact Mandy Sacher.


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