Approaching school lunches, keeping it real!

By Ines Astudillo, Paediatric Dietitian APD

Dear parents, with school lunches back on the to-do-list, I’d like to share with you my 5 tips for how to approach school lunches:

  1. Variety: Guideline 2 of the Australian Dietary Guidelines states to ‘Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from the five food groups everyday’. The ‘Five Food Groups’ model can be a simple and useful tool to ensure an adequate intake of nutrients that are necessary for the normal functioning of our bodies. Foods are grouped based on their nutrient profile. And so if for any reason a person does not eat a food group, the model can be used to look for alternative food sources of these important nutrients! Omitting whole food groups may lead nutrient deficiencies and health problems. Variety is key as it ensures that no one food is overpowering the diet and less likely to cause any problems arising from excessive intake. My suggestion is to pack at least one food from each food group.
  1. Do it your way: Keep it as simple or as complicated as you like. It really only needs to suit you and your child. There are so many ways to make this work for you, whether it be to cook fresh or use leftovers, work from a carefully planned menu or whatever is in the fridge. I’d be happy to sit with you to work out what approach suits you best whilst ensuring adequate nutrition.
  1. Packaging: Pack it in a way that will transport the food safely, retain its form so that is still edible and that your child can open! Include a cold ice block to keep cold foods that need refrigeration. Use a thermos to keep hot foods hot.
  1. Exercising your child’s choice: Get your child involved in preparing lunches and/or making choices from nutritious options that you offer. The more they practice making choices, the better they will get at it. And they are much more likely to eat the foods they are taking to school. When I suggest to get them involved, this does not mean the impossible task of trying to get their cooperation to make school lunches in the morning every day! Yikes! It might mean trialing making a lunch on a Sunday or helping you put the lids on the containers of a lunch they chose.
  1. Keep it positive and evaluate: this one is about creating an opportunity to gently discuss how the lunch meal went so that you don’t get stuck in a situation that isn’t working. A few days a week, encourage your child to help you sort through any uneaten food for disposal either in the rubbish, recycle or compost. You can ask what they think worked well or what might need to change to make it work well for them within healthy principles.

If you love doing this task of making school lunches, I’d love to hear about how you do it! If you dread this task, I’d love to see how I can support you to make it a little less painful.

Here’s a peek at what I send to school for my 4.5 yo and 6yo boys’ lunches:

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