The Five Essential Ingredients for a Great School Lunchbox

By: Clare Bruce

If you’re daunted by the prospect of another year of school lunch-making, these tips from nutritionist and dietitian Cindy Williams will help get you inspired.

Cindy, who has a passion for food and blogs at, said that even she hated doing the lunchbox routine herself, when her child first started school. She found it overwhelming—which is a relief for those of us who feel the same and aren’t nutrition and food experts.

But a few rules of thumb have helped her get into the swing of successful school lunch-packing. She says the school lunchbox should have the following five elements:

1 – Something to Fill You Up (Carbs)

This is the carbohydrate element of your child’s lunchbox; an essential ingredient to fill them up and charge them with energy for their busy day. While many kids are happy with a traditional peanut butter, vegemite or ham sandwich, some need more variety. If that’s your child, try the following:

  • Wraps
  • Pita bread
  • Crackers such as Ryvitas, Vitawheat or rice thins.
  • Mini-pizzas
  • Tinned corn
  • Home-popped popcorn
  • Leftover fried rice, or pasta.
  • Leftover dinner doesn’t have to be served cold – zap it in the microwave in the morning, and a thermos will keep it warm until lunchtime.

2 – Something to Last You (Protein)

This element is the protein item that will provide your child with long-term power, help them feel fuller, and help prevent the afternoon concentration ‘crash’. Try any of the following:

  • Hardboiled eggs
  • Cheese cubes or cheese slices
  • Chicken nibbles
  • Tuna
  • Yoghurt – frozen overnight so it’s still cold by lunch time

3 – A Fruit or Veggie Item

Essential for fibre and valuable nutrients, fruit and veggies are an important part of your child’s day—but some work better than others in a school lunchbox. Go for items that hold their shape and don’t start fermenting by lunchtime. Cindy suggests options like:

  • Grapes
  • Stone fruit
  • Crisp pear cut into pieces
  • Carrot sticks
  • Sliced capsicum
  • Cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes

4 – A Treat

The supermarket aisles have no shortage of processed lunchbox treats, but they’re often high in additives and preservatives. To keep things that little bit healthier, try items from the health-food aisle, like:

  • Bliss balls
  • Dried fruit and nuts
  • Brown rice crackers
  • Plain corn chips

Home-baked treats are also a great alternative because you avoid the additives of processed foods. Try recipes such as:

5 – A Drink

While poppers are an easy lunchbox drink option, Cindy’s best advice for schoolday hydration is to stick to water.

“Fill a bottle first thing in the morning and pop it in the freezer, so by the time the kids go off to school it should be near-frozen, and they’ll be drinking cold water through the day”, she says.

What if the Lunchbox Comes Home Full?

When kids who bring home a lunchbox full of food everyday, Cindy advises parents not to panic. “It all depends why it’s coming home full,” she says. “If the reason is that they’re just too busy playing, just give them a really good breakfast with some protein – like an egg as well as their cereal or toast.

“If you give them a really good breakfast and some little things you know they will eat, you’ll know they’re not going to fade away between breakfast and afternoon tea.”

When children come home from school starving, Cindy suggests getting them to eat their untouched lunch – unless it’s started to go ‘off’. “I do this so they understand that it’s not good to waste food,” she says.

Another good after-school snack is a smoothie: it’s filling, but won’t spoil their dinner.

Article supplied with thanks to Hope 103.2.

About the Author: Clare Bruce is a digital journalist for Hope Media.