Why do we have so much trouble with school lunches?

While I cannot directly offer you, who probably sits there with a host of noise, chaos and that shirking sound of “mum… mum… mum” (or dad) in the background, with specific advice about your individual situation. I can give an overview of why we as a group of mothers (or chief food preparers) feel pressure, overwhelmed and shudder at the thought of making school lunches.

I can also lead you to the other side where doves, baby deer and possibly unicorns help us, as we ‘whistle while we work’ during that before-school frenzy.

Well maybe not doves, but I can tell you now if you read this blog post and you ‘get’ it, the before school frenzy won’t be as bad as you think is has to be. You may even notice the birds sing as you hop in the car.

Before we get down to how I structure my kids school lunch box, let’s get on the same page and deal with why having a healthier (notice I said healthier nor healthy) lunch is important, then go about busting a few myths floating around the playground about school lunches. After the nitty gritty, we will talk about the dreaded “but why can’t I have what they are having?”.

Why even bother?

If you have been to any of my talks you will realise that I am all about starting with why. Why _______ (lunch box in this case) is important.

It’s not about being a good mum, or having healthy children… because those concepts are so abstract and don’t really mean that much in our real life, on a day-to-day basis.

What it is about is providing the nutrients, energy, sustenance that will make-up our children’s body’s and brains. It is providing them with the foundations so that they feel awesome in the classroom, so their brains are firing and can take on new information easily. Concentration, focus, physicality.

At the end of the day most of us want the same things for our children. For our children to be the best version of themselves, whatever that is. Food is the building blocks for that. It matters – no, it more than matters; it is the key.

At the end of the day most of us want the same things for our children. For our children to be the best version of themselves, whatever that is. Food is the building blocks for that. It matters – no, it more than matters; it is the key.


While most of us know this, we don’t let it sink in. When you look at your child, when your observe your child reading….everything you see, everything that is going on in their brains is energy and nutrients at work – they get all of that from food. From food. Am I making myself clear?

Let’s get Kirsten Wig on it and Bust those.. myths..

“I don’t have enough time to make sushi” was the response I got when I was asked about what other options there were for school lunches. I have to admit I was perplexed because I saw sushi easier than making sandwiches. We talked though the steps I take to making sushi in the morning. I can get if you are making it for the first time that you may be stumbling through it. But that happens with anything we learn. Do it enough and it becomes second nature – making sushi for lunch is no exception.

I don’t believe it is the actual time we struggle with, it is more that we struggle to think of things to put in the lunchbox and those packet foods have become convenient… It’s not really about time, it’s about putting effort into having simple foods, healthy foods not only available in the cupboards/fridge; but as a quick reference in your mind.

Creating a structure to school lunches (see below) will help with this. But first up, get out of the mind-set of thinking healthy lunches take time. I think I could pack three school lunches in less than 10min. Not enough time that it outweighs the benefits they will be getting mentally and physically from that food!

I hear people constantly struggle with ideas. When I start to give ideas, really good ones, I have often got the reply “oh they need more than that”. No they don’t. We have so much choice with food. Big colour packets, yoghurts in one hundred different flavours which I think has lead us to think we need to get all fancy on it. Having the mind-set of ‘If I don’t give kids packet foods, I have to bake and spend a lot of time in the kitchen… time I don’t have’.


You don’t need to have fancy quinoa sprouted muffins. Just give them fruit. About a year ago I got to a stage where I didn’t like how many crackers the kids were eating. In my mind, at that stage, they were easy to have ‘just in case’ the kids got hungry. But their cracker consumption was pretty high. I decided not buy them anymore – to replace this, I carried fruit. Slightly more effort to make sure I had a knife as well (because the kids like cut up fruit) but just as easy. I cannot even remember the kids complaining they didn’t have crackers. Now it is second nature to have these snacks on the go. When I tell this to most people, they look at me like I’m a loony and say ‘but the kids need more’.


We over think things. Keep it simple. You will see below that kids’ lunch boxes can be made up of really simple easy ingredients – which they eat.

“All or nothing”. I am going to put it out there – but what a crappy saying. But something is infiltrated how we think of food. The amount of times I have been asked how long I have been vegan or vegetarian because I have ordered that particular option at a restaurant. Just because I choose to have a dhal, doesn’t mean I am vegan. I am eating a vegan meal but I also eat bacon.

People will often protest, ‘but I cannot make a healthy lunch box’, or that their ‘kids won’t eat if they changed everything’ – I say don’t make a healthy one – just make healthier one – pack a few carrots to go with the hummus instead of the crackers; do away with the lollies and have some dried fruit instead. You don’t need to take it all on, just do one thing. Do this long enough over a period of time and you will not only be packing a mostly healthy lunch box, but your kids won’t have even noticed it changed.

Just make it healthier.


Thank-you Kirsten Wig for your contribution to busting those myths. Let’s move on to how lazy I am.

Don’t think specifics, think structure…

This is where I admit that I am lazy. Yep. I would love to be a mother who has things all sorted for the week and is perfectly organised. But I am not. To be honest I find when I try to be super organised; it actually stresses me out and into gargoyle mum.

This is why I personally find that working within a structure is awesome, freeing and makes life a little easier.

If I asked you to take 15sec and list as many white items as possible you are bound to get less than if I asked you to list as many white items in your fridge within 15sec.


Because we, as humans, remember more if things, like ‘white items’ are grouped together. How often do you have a house full of food, but trying to think what there is to put in those lunchboxes is a nightmare. It feels like we are scrounging to fill out their boxes. Half way through the day you stumble on something think, ‘oh why didn’t I think of putting that in little Johnny’s school lunch today?’

Even when I am at the end of the week and there is no food in the house, I can still manage to easily come up with items to arrange in school lunches because of the structure I have in my mind.

Let me share how I think of school lunches (NOTE: this may not work for everyone, but it works for me – you maybe a full on planner and have it mapped out at the start of the week, if that is you – go for gold there is no one right way to approach this. This is just a way I have found make things easier for me)

The structure is made up of: Main, Fruit, Vege, Protein, Other

Centre Stage

Simple sandwiches…I cannot remember getting bored with my marmite and cheese sandwiches when I grew up. A friend of mine said almost apologetically that all she gave her kids was sandwiches – if kids feel awesome on this, then go with it… we don’t need to be fancy!

Sushi: Including Rolls, Onigiri, make your own: It is a myth that sushi takes a lot of time. Go here for a few tips on how to make sushi. You don’t need to get it perfect, kids don’t notice if it is not.

  • Rolls: My eldest likes her roll simply cut in half while my boy loves it cut into portions like you see in the shops.
  • Onigiri (or rice ball): make a rice ball and part it. Add filling to centre then wrap up in cling film.
  • Make your own: simply put rice in big compartment with fillings in other compartments and put in some seaweed (if I have it, I will put in the smaller packet ones. You can get it at most super markets, but cheaper at most Asian supermarkets.

Wraps: these are great if kids are intolerant to gluten as you can get wraps made from rice from supermarkets. Put whatever in from ham, to bacon, lettuce, cheese… go for gold


Leftovers: As I said before I am lazy, so I don’t make up my own of any of these next options specifically for lunches. If I happen to make them for dinner and there are leftovers (sometimes I will make more). I add them to the lunch box. Less food waste and a different lunch for the kids – double whammy. I am sure there are more but to put a few lunchbox friendly leftover ideas in your mind, I’ll start you off:

  • Homemade pizza
  • Meatballs
  • Fritters
  • Fish cakes
  • Chicken bites (homemade of course)

Get your vege on

I always pack some sort of vegetables. Most of the time it is simply cut up vegetable sticks but sometimes it is a bit more. Here are some ideas:

  • Vegetables sticks/rounds/ basically a vegetable that is raw: carrot, cucumber, lettuce/spinach, tomatoes
  • Pickles: including olives, gherkins & small pickled onions
  • Celery logs: put some cream cheese or nut butter on the log – add raisins for ‘ants on the log’ (this is about as fancy as I get)
  • Kumara skins: When you peel your Kumara (or potatoes) at night, wash the skins and bake in oven on high heat with some oil and Himalayan They will go crispy and are a delish item that is normally thrown away.
  • Salt and vinegar carrots: For all the salt and vinegar kid lovers…Cut carrots into sticks and place in container with apple cider vinegar with some Himalayan salt. Marinate over night and you have a great S & V snack.
  • Kale Chips: Great way to get kids loving that touted green super food.
  • Sauerkraut: yes not for everyone, but is something that is staple in our house, simple because I am a huge believer in health beginning in the gut. It can take a little bit for children (and adults) to like the taste… but well worth the effort.

Tuti fruttie

So easy, yet often over looked. I don’t get fancy on it, I like to buy in season. Here are some tips

  • Apple: if your kids are like mine and have only ever had their mother serve them apples cut up, but do not like it when it goes brown – splash a little lemon juice on the white bits in the morning and it should stay white until your little tackers devour it at morning tea/lunch
  • Kiwi fruit: Get a pack from the supermarket that has the ‘kiwifruit spoon’ in it. Yes they will likely leave a good chunk, but they will enjoy slicing it open and scooping it out.
  • Banana: don’t bother unless you want a brown, stale smelling banana to be returned. Gross.
  • Spice it up with a passion fruit now and again. Or even bust out a Dragon fruit – if anything it will get them talking!

Keep them keen, add some protein:

Protein is a must for me. Giving protein can help keep children (and adults) satisfied for longer periods after eating: Here are few, simple ideas I have stashed away:

  • Hummus: good for dipping vegetable sticks in
  • Natural yoghurt: They have finally started making natural yoghurt in individual pottles– if kids have only ever had the sweeter yoghurts, add in frozen berries or even a small amount of honey to help them adjust to the less sugary taste of natural yoghurt.
  • Eggs: Boiled are easy, but you can also make an omelette if cooking is your thing in the morning…if not boil some eggs up with dinner at night and chuck them in the fridge ready for the next morning.
  • Homemade muesli: Mostly nuts (see recipe) so great for keeping them satisfied.
  • Nuts: Any will do, mine prefer pistachios at the moment, simply because they like opening them!
  • Cheese: Again don’t be fancy, just cut a slice off your 1kg block.

Please Yourself

This I think of as an added extra. Above are the basics and they will do well on this. However I do like adding in other items that are lying around.

  • Baking: I don’t often bake, simply because I cannot be bothered. The kids are getting into baking on a Sunday, which they will have in their lunchbox during the week
  • Good for your gut gummies. Keeps it fresh and something different to what is on the playground.
  • Banana bread: I love Pete Evans recipe on this one. Kids love it too!
  • Bliss balls: If I have my ducks in a line I make these – otherwise I buy them from the supermarket. There has been a surge in flavours and brands lately – so see what flavours suit your children. Just be warned they are very high in sugars, one will do.
  • Crackers: I have gone away from having crackers in the house, as I mentioned above. However when family comes to stay they quite often buy crackers so I will chuck a few in the kiddies lunchbox. I don’t recommend this as a regular item though as most crackers are packed full of sugar, stabilizer etc – something that I don’t think teaches good habits to children… but I realise most people cannot let crackers go, so do what suits you.

Good ideas but will they eat it?

I hear this a lot: Those are great ideas, but my kids won’t eat that.

How do we get kids going off to school happy with what is in their lunch box?

Kids love Gastronomy, give them Autonomy:

I made this rhyme up to signify how getting kids involved in the process of preparing, cooking and decision making can help tremendously with them eating healthy foods.

Here is the key: provide the boundaries either by options that you are wiling to make or ingredients if they are making their lunch themselves. They feel like they have made their own mind up – but you have set the boundaries of what foods they will actually eat.



What about dealing with “I want what they are having”. I want to say that I don’t get this problem, but on reflection I see that the kids have asked why I don’t put dinosaur lollies in their lunch box like their mate or why I don’t put packets of chips in their lunch box. (Note: we don’t have a canteen at our school, so this eliminates asking for money)

I cannot tell you how to speak to your children, but this is what I basically say to them.


Ha just kidding. I open up a conversation about it. I talk to them about how the food they eat makes their bodies and brains grow. How because I care lots about food and have a lot of knowledge about it I choose to give them mostly healthy foods. Above all I try to draw the attention away from what they are NOT getting and on to why healthy food is awesome!

If they persist, I go to fall back mode and make it clear (in a warming tone of course) that I won’t be buying lollies… (This is something I just cannot bring myself to do!) but is there something else either you or we can bake that you would like.

Yes most times it is not strictly the ‘healthiest’ food, but I think the bond that is created over baking and what they are learning with measuring cups, ovens etc outweighs being strictly sugar free or being the healthiest of healthy kids.


I personally believe because I have a deep conviction that I don’t buy those foods – they get it. I am sure if I waived sometimes, or hesitated, they would keep trying and trying and trying. Which would be annoying. Establish a deep conviction of what foods you are prepared your kids to have and not have – they will get it.

School Lunch-box fun

Boom. Let’s recap. We have covered

  • Why; why healthy school lunches are important, which could get you more focused and motivated. It could also serve to deepen your conviction when explaining to your kids why you don’t give them what other kids have….
  • We have busted a few myths… basically changing our mind-set around how we see school lunches
  • Dealt to the structure. Yes I am a bit OCD on being methodical, but I tell you, having a structure can help you relax and have ideas springing out of your noggin. You may even whistle while you work.
  • Lastly: Kids love gastronomy, give them autonomy.


Awesome, I hope this has helped you even in a small way. If you know of anyone stressing out over school lunches or even have friends/ acquaintances that feed their kids rubbish – start talking about this cool blog you read… Who knows they may read it and find a few tips to help them swap out some of the crap and add in some healthier foods.

Because after all we all want to be healthier, we all want healthy kids and we can only start where we are.

Just do one thing that is HEALTHIER today.