What’s in your kids’ lunchboxes?

Less than two weeks in and I think I’ve cracked why parents get weepy about their child going to school. It’s not the thought of their little darling growing up, it’s the realisation that it signals the start of more than a decade of making school lunches.

As much as I know I should aspire to be the kind of ‘perfect mother who turns her kid’s lunchboxes into art’, it’s not going to happen. Especially because I am determined that lunchbox duty is a job to be shared by other members of this household who are old enough to handle a knife and go to the shops unaccompanied.

Here we have peanut butter, cream cheese and broccoli sprouts in a flatbread, some carrot sticks, a little parcel of Brazil nuts, a homemade chocolate muffin that’s much more nutritious than it looks (recipe coming soon!) and an apple.

But, crumbs, it’s hard to get my head around. I remember from my own childhood that all I wanted for a long period was luncheon sausage and tomato sauce in my sandwiches (the tomato sauce was Mum’s homemade one, in my defence). I recall my mother inserting all manner of ‘interesting’ things in my lunchbox: a pork pie (unsuccessful), nut-flavoured yoghurt (a disappointment) and – very occasionally, those triangles of plastic cheese (then, my idea of heaven). Nearly 35 years later, I still remember the shame at finding two used teabags in my teal-coloured lunchbox. My little friends Bernie and Jean-Anne ran to the staffroom for help – where the kind Mrs Wilson pointed out that, in fact, they were dried figs. Such things were rare at Atiamuri Primary, where other kids got little packets of crisps and shop-bought biscuits, or sandwiches wrapped up in the blue and white paper that the Sunday bread came in. Some even went home for lunch, returning with slabs of freshly baked Maori bread slathered with butter. There were probably others who had little for lunch and even less for breakfast.

Of course, that’s a far cry from what kids eat today – at least, if you believe everything you read. Pinterest is full of weird charts, which seem mostly designed for dieting adults (‘this snack is only 100 calories’ etc) and I feel thoroughly depressed at my culinary and parenting skills whenever I read Amanda Hesser’s Food 52 blog on what she puts in her twins’ school lunches.

Obviously I spend more time worrying about the contents of their lunches than I do about the weeds in my garden…

So I’m very grateful for Nicola Galloway’s advice on healthy school lunches, which is just about the most useful thing I’ve come across in the last couple of weeks is (and there’s a great cracker recipe in the post too). The basic message is not rocket science – kids need a balance of ‘good’ carbohydrates, protein and fibre to keep them sustained and alert, just like adults do.

I’m not sure what the magic ingredient is that makes them actually eat all their lunch at lunchtime (“I didn’t eat it Mum, I was too busy”) but it is getting eaten (and then some) for afternoon tea so I must be doing something right.

So tell me, please, what do you put in your kids’ lunchboxes? There are only so many more peanut butter and sprout sandwiches I can make this week…

UPDATE: I’ve just created this Easy Tasty Lunchbox Ideas Pinterest board to collate some ideas. Check it out – and let me know if you’d like to contribute!



    • June 10, 2014 / 8:26 am

      Thank you, those meatballs sound great. And the rusks – have you seen my miso/lemon/cheese version? They are delicious!

  1. June 10, 2014 / 5:14 am

    Lunchboxes. You've hit the nail on the head. I dread it. Far too much effort for coming home half eaten. "not enough time". One doesn't eat sandwiches which makes things even more interesting. Apparently their friends all get junk food. Surely that can't be right. One would love a peanut butter sandwich every day but with a best mate highly allergic, that's not going to happen. I'm going to try the recipe the comment above suggested. I often make mini egg and bacon pies and freeze them. I just them straight into lunchbox from the freezer and they're defrosted by lunch. Recipe on my blog.

    • June 10, 2014 / 8:29 am

      I have just pinned your b&e pies to my new Pinterest board! The junk food thing is interesting – I have been trying to make inquiries with my daughter but she is an unreliable source at best. Though today she said, 'Mum, why does [insert name of ratbag child here] have M&M sandwiches?' I have got to find out if that's true!

  2. June 10, 2014 / 7:04 am

    Nuts of any description are an absolute no-no at our school (and I suspect most Australian schools) so that's a bummer right there. Apples and pears are a godsend as is kiwifruit cut in half. When they're not in season, strawberries, peaches and melons keep my two happy. Sandwiches usually contain cheese and cucumber or cheese and carrot, although sandwich meats and jam have been known to feature on the menu in moments of desperation. Salad wraps get the big thumbs up (although they are obviously fussier to make). Now that they are a bit bigger we sometimes do the thermos thing with soup in winter.

    'Snack' is always our undoing. All the kids do indeed take junk food. I've been a classroom helper and have seen it with my own eyes. It's horrific! Six years in I'm still fighting the good fight. Fortunately my kids like dip (tzatziki, hummous etc) and biscuits (they won't stretch to vegie sticks) and homemade museli bars (no nuts).

    Also these http://www.theburlapbag.com/2012/07/2-ingredient-cookies-plus-the-mix-ins-of-your-choice/

    and this Coconut and Date Slice with half the sugar http://www.theage.com.au/news/Epicure/Slices-to-savour/2005/05/02/1114886287260.html

    Not perfect nutrition but I still work on the premise that anything home baked is better than shop bought. Like all things involving little people, its a work in progress.

    • June 10, 2014 / 8:36 am

      Thanks Caz, I've pinned both those recipes (and I feel I am going to like The Burlap Bag in general).
      Nuts are not an issue at my daughter's school (though you can't bring dogs into the grounds due to allergies!). It's a godsend, because we eat enough nuts and nut butters in this house to send the merest allergenic person into anaphylactic shock.
      I remember taking Thermos' to school, but always getting in trouble for breaking them (they were less robust then). And don't feel bad about jam sandwiches – I remember my big sister making me quark and raspberry jam on Vogels bread sandwiches and it's still one of my favourite combinations. Sometimes I even skip the bread!

  3. June 10, 2014 / 11:40 am

    Lunch boxes can be a bit of an uphill battle – especially if you have a picky eater or two! great links and info –

  4. June 10, 2014 / 11:48 pm

    Oh man – all I wanted was luncheon and tomato sauce sandwiches too! I'm ok but we have a kid with allergies so lunch n snacks can be a drag.

  5. June 13, 2014 / 1:21 am

    Whatever happened to school dinners? My parents subcontracted lunch boxes for me. I never wanted to sit on the packed lunch table. Bad enough thinking about what I have for lunch without having the lunch box at school pressure. Am sure you'll crack it and before long Eve will be making her own :o)

  6. June 15, 2014 / 9:49 am

    i go through phases of mixing it up ('wraps', pita breads, leftovers, etc) but then go back to the tried and true combination of brown bread sandwiches, carrots sticks, fruit cake slab for months on end. kids now assemble their own lunches, as long as i keep the fruit cake in stock…

  7. Ruth D
    June 16, 2014 / 8:40 pm

    Im a Kiwi living in the UK and have 3 children (16, 14 and 10) and lunches feel like a never-ending story! I have a great book called 'Lunch Boxes' by Jennifer Joyce which is marvellous for ideas and recipes when you are feeling a bit desperate. My kids schools are nut free and my smallest is a bread and potato-phobe which makes lunches challenging to say the least! We get round it by using rice, pasta, noodles and beans in place of a lot of carbs and letting her know that sometimes you just have to suck it up and have a roll or sliced bread. Green stuff in your lunch is non-negotiable, it doesnt have to be in the sandwich, it can be beside the sandwich as long as it gets eaten. And I dont care what other kids have in their lunchboxes, if you dont eat the main component and just eat the treat, you dont get one the next day. After all, they could be having school dinners instead of a lovingly prepared, personalised lunchbox 🙂

  8. May 29, 2015 / 4:47 am

    I have only just discovered this post – don't know how I missed it but found it very useful and have just been checking out nicola galloway's post too. I am never quite sure I get it right but feel I don't do too badly esp after just talking to someone whose kid has nutella sandwiches each lunchtime (and for breakfast!) Will check out your pinterest board too

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