Lunch Box Lessons

Part 4 of 5 in the “Five Most Common Back-to-School Problems and How To Fix Them” series.

THE #4 PROBLEM ~ The Lunch-Box Challenge: who eats it, who packs it & what’s in it?

I wonder how many of my New Zealand-based readers were as stunned as I was at the 17th September 2012 Channel 3 investigation into lunch-box differences between students in Decile 1 versus Decile 10 schools* ?

In brief, children coming to school from poor neighbourhoods had appalling lunches (e.g., a fizzy drink and a bag of chips) or no lunch. Children coming to school from wealthier neighbourhoods had healthy lunches (whole grain sandwiches, home-made muffins, nuts & fruit).

Sure, a smoked salmon bagel, grapes and almonds cost more than a bag of chips, but there’s more to it than just money. Parents need to understand what constitutes good-enough nutrition and teach their kids how to take care of their bodies as well as their minds.

So, with the triple goals of ~

  1. Teaching your child about healthy foods
  2. Translating this into specific packable lunch-box meals
  3. Delegating lunch-box-prep to the lunch-box-eater

see if these ideas help:


Kids sniff out a hypocrite faster than they’ll fall on the first fresh muffin from the oven so if you want your child to make healthy food choices, you’d better be making them too. Occasionally chat at a meal. Ask your family,

“ So is this a healthy meal? What makes it good for us? Where’s the protein, fruit or vegetable, or whole grain? Any minerals or vitamins in here? What’s tasty to you? What do you wish you could add? Would that be make it healthier or less healthy for us?”

2. FAST (to prepare),  FUN (to eat) & FULL (of nutrients) 

Shop for school lunch ingredients that fit the above mantra.

Fast to prepare:  Peanut butter and jam sandwiches; sliced cheese; cubed cheese;  marinated tofu squares; sliced meats; bagels and cream cheese or salmon, hard boiled eggs; small tins of tuna; salted almonds.

Fun to eat:  Finger foods are already fun. Tiny containers of dry fruit, peanuts, mini sweets, cut up oranges or grapes.

Full of nutrients: Think Michael Pollen’s mantra, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” In other words, don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. Avoid pre-packaged foods with long lists of ingredients you’ve never heard of!


Families vary here. If lovingly packing your child’s lunch box with a healthful medley of tasty treats whilst tucking in a wee love note makes you and your child happy, who am I to propose otherwise! However, if you don’t enjoy making the lunches – try the suggestions above with your child. Just stock up on good food and small plastic tubs. And launch your child into a lifetime of making healthy food choices.

* Click here for more about New Zealand’s school decile rating system.

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