Avoid those lunch box wars in the morning with Dr Joanna McMillan’s simple lunch and snack ideas.

Dr Joanna McMillan, mum of two and one of Australia’s favourite nutrition scientists & lifestyle specialists, shares her tips to becoming a lunch box hero.

School lunchboxes arrghhh! They can be the bane of every parent and guardian’s life. Coming up with nutritious lunches and snacks the kids will actually eat can become just another stress. Yet it doesn’t need to be!

I’ve teamed up with Bakers Delight to help make creating a healthier lunchbox a cinch this year. With a little forward planning to have the right things in the fridge and pantry, you can quickly throw together delicious lunchboxes the kids will actually eat and that you know are good for them.

Kids have smaller tummies than adults and that means they need to eat more often. They need slow release carbohydrates (low GI) – I call these ‘smart carbs’ – to deliver the glucose their muscles need to run around during sport and recess play, and for their brains to work in the classroom.

They need good fats to help keep hunger pangs at bay and deliver fat-soluble nutrients. They need protein to support their growth and development, as well as a whole bunch of vitamins and minerals provided by whole foods. And don’t forget about fibre to keep their little guts regular and healthy.

Here’s your quick guide to creating a lunchbox that provides all that!

  1. Smart carbs – this is where bread fits in. Wholegrain bread is the healthiest choice, but for kids who will only eat white bread, the Hi-Fibre Lo-GI range from Bakers Delight is a big step in the right direction. You could also include brown rice, sushi, pasta or other grains or legumes
  2. Protein – this could be cold meat, hard-boiled egg, cheese, beans, fish including tuna or cooked salmon, tofu and/or yoghurt. A milk or soy-based smoothie also adds protein
  3. Plants – this means veggies and fruit, but wholegrains, legumes (beans and chickpeas) and seeds also count (keep the nuts for eating at home)
  4. Good fats – this might be hummus or avocado in the sandwich or as a dip, seeds in a snack bar or muffin, or included in your protein choice such as salmon

Quick wins for healthier lunchboxes

  • When cooking dinner, make a little extra meat or fish to use in sandwich fillings over the next couple of days. This is not only healthier as you can then use fresh rather than processed bought meats, it’s also budget friendly
  • When chopping veggies for dinner, cut a few carrots, cucumber, capsicum and/or celery into batons and keep in a container in the fridge. Pop these into the lunchbox with a little tub of hummus, tzatziki or avocado dip
  • Hard boil a few eggs on Sunday, peel and store in the fridge. These make terrific sandwich fillings, or simply popped in with a few veggie sticks for a high protein snack
  • Invest in reusable yoghurt pots. Fill these with natural Greek yoghurt and berries, passionfruit or other diced fruit, or add a drizzle of pure honey. Great for creating your own nutritious combos, but also cuts down on packaging waste
  • Make fruit easy for kids to eat. For example, slice up apple or pear and pop in a reusable container with a chunk of cheese for a yummy snack
  • Look for bought snack products and muesli bars with at least 4 stars on the Health Star Rating system
  • When you do have some time on the weekend, whip up a batch of homemade muffins, fruit loaf or cookies using wholegrain or legume flours, healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil and incorporating seeds, fruit or veggies such as carrots, zucchini or pumpkin. Freeze in individual portions for later days 
  • Don’t feel the need to give kids endless variety. Nothing is wrong with popping in a bag of popcorn several days in a row!
  • Slip a veggie or two into their sandwich. e.g. a leaf of crunchy cos lettuce, some grated carrot or beetroot, sliced cucumber, a few canned beans mixed through tuna mayo or a handful of baby spinach
  • A smoothie is a great way of getting veggies and fruit into their lunchbox
  • Dairy foods are important sources of calcium, as well as protein, for growing kids. Include at least one dairy food such as cheese, yoghurt, a milk-based smoothie or flavoured milk every day. For dairy-free diets, be sure to look for calcium-fortified alternatives such as soy milk
  • Swap butter in the sandwich for avocado, hummus, tahini or cream cheese to add extra nutrients
  • In winter, whip up a veggie soup and pop in a thermos to eat with their sandwich or roll. It’s an easy way to get more veggies into their day as well as keep them warm in the cooler months