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School lunches

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Young children need a variety of healthy foods to provide them with the different nutrients their growing bodies need. These can include foods traditional to your culture. Any leftovers from dinner are fine if children enjoy them.


Many children eat much of their food each day away from home. Although some services provide meals, parents often need to send enough food along for the day.

Young children need a variety of healthy foods to provide them with the different nutrients their growing bodies need. These can include foods traditional to your culture. Any leftovers from dinner are fine if children enjoy them.

Foods will stay fresher and taste better if they're individually wrapped - sandwich bags or ziplock bags are easier for children to unwrap than plastic wrap.

There are several topics about school lunches on the Raising Children Network - have a look at the section School age nutrition - healthy eating.

What to choose

Involve children in choosing and preparing foods for their packed lunches.

  • Ask children what they would like for lunch, out of a choice of healthy foods such as sandwiches, fruit, raw or salad vegetables (such as carrot, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, celery), cheese sticks, and dried fruit.
  • Make sure that your children get enough to eat - ask them whether they are getting enough.
  • Encourage them to bring any uneaten food home - then you will get an idea about whether they are eating their lunch and what foods they don't like.
  • Sandwich fillings that children often like include vegemite, peanut paste, cheese spread, hommos, egg and lettuce, cheese slices, grated cheese and grated carrot mixed together, and cold meats.
  • Try different kinds of bread such as Lebanese bread and pita bread.
  • Children often don't eat things that go soggy, eg. tomato sandwiches - but tiny cherry tomatoes in a salad of lettuce, celery, cheese, gherkin and grated carrot can make an enjoyable lunch.
  • Pack lunches with a frozen drink in the lunch box in summer to help keep the food cold.
  • Include an occasional treat of "sometimes foods".

Some schools have a 'brain food time' partway through the morning. Your child would need a separate little packet of fruit, nuts, vegi-sticks or yoghurt at this time.

Bought lunches

Many children like to use the school canteen, and some parents allow this as a weekly treat, or allow for it in the child's pocket money. Most school canteens nowadays have mostly healthy food and need to follow careful food preparation procedures.

If your child buys lunch at a shop, you might want to check some of these things to be sure it is healthy.

  • Only buy from shops that look clean and where staff can be seen to follow good food preparation procedures.
  • If buying hot food such as a pie, do not buy it unless it is really hot (not just warm).
  • When buying sandwiches or rolls from a shop, only buy ones that have been kept in a refrigerator or freshly made, not ones that are left out on the shelf.
  • Eat the sandwich or roll that you buy straight away, or keep it in a fridge.

Storing packed lunches

Packed lunches such as sandwiches can be a health risk if they are kept too long or are not well stored.

  • Because it is unlikely that school lunches can be stored in a fridge, it is a good idea to buy an insulated lunch box to help keep the food cool.
  • Make sure that food which has been cooked, such as a hard boiled egg, has been properly cooled in the fridge before packing it in a lunch box.
  • Packing a bottle of frozen drink with the lunch will give children a cold drink and help keep the lunch cool. Yoghurt and milk, and sandwiches can also be frozen.
  • Make sure your children keep their lunches in as cool a place as possible. Talk to your school about where children's lunches are kept.
  • Ask your children, or check for yourself, if these ideas keep the food reasonably cold until lunch time.

What to put in lunch boxes if they can't be kept cold

The following foods will usually be safe to put in school lunches, even if you are unable to keep the food cold:

  • fresh or dried fruit
  • pieces of vegetable - carrot and celery sticks, etc.
  • wrapped cheese sticks
  • a drink, eg. of water or juice, which has been frozen over night
  • vegemite or peanut butter sandwiches
  • canned food, such as a can of tuna.

What not to put in lunch boxes

If you cannot keep the food cold, the following foods should be avoided:

  • all meats except dried meat
  • dairy products - yoghurt, soft cheeses, milk (flavoured or plain) - the things you find in the fridge in the supermarket
  • other food which you would normally keep in the fridge, such as seafood and cooked leftovers.

Alert! Some children have a severe reaction to peanuts, so much so that it is advisable that no-one in that class has peanuts or peanut butter. Check with your child's teacher if peanut butter is allowed in your child's class. If it is a particular favourite, it can still be eaten at home.


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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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