+  Well Nourished | Tips for packing healthy school lunches

Packing a whole foods lunch box – and how to make healthy, cool!

Let’s face it, my kids school lunches are exceptional – exceptional in that I’m told they are not normal.  I wish I had a dollar for every time I am asked “do your kids actually eat that?” or “how much of that comes home untouched?”  The food I pack my kids is just food they love to eat and their lunch boxes are almost always returned completely empty (other than the odd olive pip or a cupcake holder).

You only have to look inside a kids lunch box to understand that the industrialisation and commercialization of our food chain has a strong hold on this next generation.  Combined with the peer pressure to conform to the processed food norm, convincing your kids to eat ‘real’ food at school can be a challenge.  All the same, I can’t help but feel it’s such a shame that whole foods are considered ‘hippy’ or just plain ‘weird’.

It was no surprise to me, not long after I launched Well Nourished, that I learned in the course of a conversation with my then 8-year-old, that she was embarrassed by her school lunch.  I was sad and frustrated that she felt persecuted for eating what her body is designed to eat.  It was another steep but resolvable learning curve for both of us.

This is what we did and what you can do to convince your kids a healthy lunch box is cool…

  • It’s a personality thing
    My daughter is of strong character, but she also likes to be liked and fit in.  So I asked her if she liked her school lunches and how I could change them to make them less embarrassing.  She was torn because her favourite lunches were defiantly not the ‘norm’ and she actually didn’t want anything else in her lunch box.
  • Rise to the challenge…
    We discussed how healthy, fit, strong and smart she is and how the food she eats impacts positively on those attributes.  She decided she could live with the embarrassment (and any lunch box bullying) and so her lunches stayed the same.  I think this experience has actually been character building for her.  She has learned how not to conform and I think a valuable life lesson.  My son (6 years) on the other hand loves his tucker so much, he happily lives with taunts about his ‘smelly’ eggs and ‘yuk’ salads.  He’s a big, strong boy (and ferociously competitive) so he happily defaults to the ‘this food makes me fast’ argument when confronted.
  • If not…strike a compromise, small allowances
    I’ve struck many compromises with my kids and I do I love to ‘health’ food up!  My kids have never had Subway, but the concept of it does appeal to them.  So every now and them I buy a sourdough french stick from my local market, stuff it with meat and salad and they have “Subway” for lunch.  Whatever your compromise, angle for the healthiest option.
  • Get them involved
    Of course, give them some input into their lunch or getting them to help pack it with the understanding that they will need to eat all that is packed.  I expect my kids to finish the food I pack for them and they know if they don’t eat it at school, they will need to eat it after school.  I’m firm, but not mean – if something’s gone soggy for example, they aren’t made to eat it.  But I really hate food waste and these rules are generally respected by my kids.
    Also, discuss with your kids the best order to eat their lunch. My kids know that it’s best to eat certain vegetables and fruit at first break or by the second break it won’t taste so good.  The order of the rest is entirely up to them.
  • Discuss and help them to lead by example
    Use whatever opportunities you can to discuss how healthy food might benefit them (physically and mentally).  My kids are both athletic and do very well in lots of competitive sport.  A few of my friends use this to motivate their own kids to eat well.  I use a few of my kids sporting heroes (who I know have fabulous whole food diets) to reiterate the importance of good food choices.  No nagging, just little hints, and mentions.

It’s funny the way the world turns.  Whilst I have many motivations for developing Well Nourished, one of the key drivers was to help families improve upon their kids eating habits.  I now have quite a few mums from school following Well Nourished and making changes to the content of their kids lunches.  So for Miss 9, her healthy lunches have gone from being a source of embarrassment to a source of pride – the changes her friends make are noticed and it’s actually become ‘cool’ to have a healthy lunch.  She is so cute…now if a student or teacher passes comment about her lunch being healthy, she gives them one of my business cards!

This in itself is my greatest reward from developing Well Nourished and for that, I am eternally grateful.  As always, when making changes to your kids diet, persistence, patience and loads of praise is so important.  Small changes can make the most profound difference.

What are the biggest hurdles you face when packing a healthy school lunch?  Have your kids been on the receiving end of lunch box bullying and how did you deal with it?  Love for you to post a comment below.

 

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Lunches

  • Kylie

    My son gets comments about his lunches all the time and kids constantly ask what he is eating. Or they tell him its yuck or smells. He just takes it in his stride and tells them that he likes to eat it. The positive is we get great comments from the teachers about how healthy my kids eat and that its great to see lunch boxes that aren’t full of processed foods and sugar…

    • Thanks Kylie, he sounds like my son and yes at least teachers are supportive (which must make the taunts a lot easier to handle). Good on him for taking it in his stride, G x

  • Susan

    What a great article, thanks so much! We are lucky enough to go to a Steiner school where I think the majority of parents are quite holistic in their views about lunchboxes. My son has a planet box and the teacher has told me that there is always quite a lot of activity around children checking out what is in his lunchbox. The children all generally have real foods with no packaging and the parents have been actively asked not to provide packaged treats. I go to a huge amount of time and trouble to provide healthy and tasty variety. Even among our more natural living peers, he has had comments about his lunches and it sometimes bothers him – sometimes I think he would prefer a vegemite sandwhich every day!

    • Good on you Susan. It certainly helps when everyone is on the same page. I sometimes wish my kids could experience the same ‘vegemite sandwich’ type of lunch day after day just to realise how bloody lucky they are!! LOL, G x

  • Meg

    In my son’s first week at high school, his class mates were blown away by his ‘Meal’ in the lunch box. I think they were impressed and a little envious. I have made mini change, by mini change. Improvement here, improvement there. And now my 4 kids eat only whole foods in their lunch box…..Every Day. Everything is prepared by me. No wrappers. But it took time and effort. Persistence.Very Proud of myself.

    • You should be proud Meg. I hope more people can take your little by little approach rather than making big changes, having them rejected and giving up all together. Your persistence and patience has paid of, well done, G x

  • Tasha Moon

    Sadly my son (in Prep) has been teased for his healthy lunches…to the extent that for a few weeks he stopped eating his raw veggies at school but then inhaled them on the way home in the car…it led to a few discussions about being an individual, and doing what is right for you…and yesterday all the veggies were gone again 🙂

    • Good on you Tasha for empowering your son – kids are a whole lot more resilient than we give them credit for. It’s crappy that kids can be so mean but I try to use adversity as a time to communicate with my kids and teach them valuable life skills. G x

    • Hannah

      Good on you Mama! I wish my son would tell me why he won’t eat his veg at school, I suspect it’s because of teasing or not wanting to be different but he won’t open up. 🙁 We have had plenty of discussions about being an individual too!

  • Gal

    You’re an inspiration Georgia! My son is only 2 1/2 and I am already starting to mentally prepare (and perfect my coconut flour muffins!)
    for all the years of school lunches ahead of me :). Quick question- he goes to a morning program twice a week where I send his lunch. I try to avoid gluten for him where possible but somehow he still loves sandwiches (probably because he rarely gets them and also because he sees all the other kids with them). So one of the days I send an organic spelt bread sandwich for him but I guess I am concerned about providing alternatives next year when he will be at kinder 5 days a week. He’s a fantastic eater and enjoys things like fritters and frittatas, etc. but not cold. Any tips for getting him over his “sandwich envy” or is it something he might grow out of? Thanks again for all of your amazing blogs and recipes.

  • Mickey

    Love the lunch boxes where are they from??

  • Gal

    You’re an inspiration Georgia! My son is only 2 1/2 and I am already starting to mentally prepare (and perfect my coconut flour muffins!)
    for all the years of school lunches ahead of me :). Quick question- he goes to a morning program twice a week where I send his lunch. I try to avoid gluten for him where possible but somehow he still loves sandwiches (probably because he rarely gets them and also because he sees all the other kids with them). So one of the days I send an organic spelt bread sandwich for him but I guess I am concerned about providing alternatives next year when he will be at kinder 5 days a week. He’s a fantastic eater and enjoys things like fritters and frittatas, etc. but not cold. Any tips for getting him over his “sandwich envy” or is it something he might grow out of? Thanks again for all of your amazing blogs and recipes.

    • Thanks Gal. Yes sandwiches have always been enticing to my kids for the same reason. I think striking a compromise is good and empowering for kids. If you remove all choice they may become resentful, finding middle ground is important. I do give my kids sandwiches on good sourdough spelt or kamut. It’s my back up too for when I don’t have something else prepared – I try to have bread in the freezer. As they get older they are way less interested in them and prefer protein/salad combo’s so he will probably grow out of it too. G x

  • kate @ livinglovinglaughing

    Fantastic post Georgia! Appreciate your ongoing perspective. My daughter is only in Kindy and thankfully no problem from her or from her peers *yet* about her whole food lunches… though she has mentioned once in an awed voice about friends’ little containers of jelly/yogo type stuff!! LOL.and so it begins. However as you said, as we press on together, good lessons will be learnt along the way, about nutrition but other values too like strength of character!

    • Thanks Kate, yes the food marketers do a very good job of making packaging pretty enough to grab their attention! Parenting is one big learning curve really, food lessons and all. It does help if we are all on the same page though in building a healthy generation, G x

  • Chantal Frenchy

    Thank you so much for your website, as you can see from the comments you are doing an amazing job at changing people to healthy eating. My older boy is due to start school next year and I am a little anxious at making sure he eats well but I relates to your website a lot for help. Tell me would you consider running seminar on the Gold coast with some specific topics like “kids lunch box” ” healthy treats” etc.. Because I would definitely be in! It looks you have so much knowledge on what food is healthy and why so would love to learn more through seminars. Just a thought! Chantal

    • Hi Chantal, thanks for your lovely message. Gold Coast Healthy and Active actually asked me to run seminars this year. It is something I’m super keen to do, if only I had an extra 40 hours a week. Once Well Nourished is running a little more seamlessly (I’m still finding my way with technology and easily fill 40 hours a week writing and recipe developing/photographing), I will defiantly look at offering some seminars on and off line. Thanks so much for your ideas. It really helps me to understand what you are after and deliver the right info and services. Keep them coming! G x

  • Lucy

    Fantastic! This is brilliant – I can’t wait to make school lunches for Ethan when he’s older – so much goodness here… you’re my inspiration 🙂

  • Bec

    Hi Georgia,
    Do you think a planet box would work for a 2.5 year old? I thought I could get one early before she starts kindy next year?
    Ps I think I have made most of your recipes and you are my go to for meal ideas (you have over taken jamie, maggie and Stephanie!)
    Bec
    X

    • WOW – what an amazing compliment! Thank you so much! Bec, I wish I had found the Planet Box when my kids were little – would have saved me a lot of money in boxes they couldn’t open or boxes that break. They are perfect for little ones because they are so easy to open. I link to them form my website because I think they are simple yet ingenious and I’m more than happy to recommend them! G x

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