Confessions of a Lunchbox Spy: Part 1

I admit to helping out at school excursions largely just to spy on other kid’s lunchboxes. It’s not in a judgy way, I just have a genuine curiosity about what people give their kids, and what they will eat. I peer surreptitiously into these capsules of life-sustaining nuggets and picture a parent much like myself, bored out of their brains, packing yet another lunchbox. Usually in a rush, usually instead of eating one’s own breakfast, and definitely wondering as to whether the apple will become a hockey ball at lunch.

For some, what the little people in their lives consume, is well, all-consuming. For others, it’s a matter of new year’s resolutions, and endless January web searches with the best of intentions, that then subsides into packing the same old thing day-in-day-out. We all know it’s important that our kids eat well, it literally improves their chances for “success” (happiness and academically) in life. But on a day-to-day basis, we are just doing our best – while often telling ourselves we could be doing better.

Some of us have kids who will eat mostly anything in their lunchbox, even if they complain about it a bit. But others have kids who will eat just enough to get by. An endless source of frustration for the maker of the lunches. Dumping yet another uneaten sandwich into the bin at night. It’s a worry and it feels like an endless cycle. I’ve talked to parents who fill their kid’s lunchboxes with “crap” (their word, not mine) in the hope they will just eat something, even if it isn’t the most nutritious snack going ‘round.

We’d like to help make things a little easier for everyone, starting with small changes that will stick. We aren’t going to dictate that you follow the latest trending diet and we will be exploring all types requirements, because we know from experience, one size most certainly does not fit all. We aren’t going to lecture anyone, and we won’t make you feel bad about anything. Because we have definitely had many of our own lunchbox fails – and dinner fails. Also breakfast fails for that matter.

From a nutritional standpoint, a lunchbox should include a variety of food groups, and the kid needs to eat the food in it. We think being too strict about the way we eat is probably counter-productive, and especially in growing kids, we try for “healthyish” rather than Draconion. So these are our goals, every morning when we pack our kids’ lunchbox.

In very simple terms, the food groups we want to see are:

Protein / calcium

Variety of fruit and veg


Water for hydration

We also believe whole-heartedly in Nude Food. That is, food that doesn’t come in a packet and is as close to how nature intended as possible. In our article, here, we tell you how to make it happen. Once you start to include that philosophy in your food shopping, it will become second nature. And the benefits will just flow.

In order to get them to eat their lunch, we love to employ that parenting no-no: bribery! Otherwise known in our world as ‘keeping the kids happy’. Treats, and keeping things exciting are really important for engaging your kids in what you pack for them. Being treat-wise is the key, and we have some great ideas for how treats can be satisfying for both parent and child. Here’s a mini-muffin recipe to get you started.

Finally, we believe that nutrition comes from eating a wide variety of foods. This might feel impossible when feeding small people, but actively working to broaden your child’s palette is giving them a lifetime of joy and health in eating. Providing a positive attitude to food will help them, (and you), to respect their bodies by caring about what they put into it. As a chef this is a personal passion of mine (not to mention professionally prudent of course) and I go into it more here.

As adults trying to keep healthy ourselves, the process of actively working on a better taste palette is fabulous to go through yourself, for yourself, not just for the kids. Many grown ups have very limited range in their diet and have quite specific food likes and dislikes. Taking active steps to improve the variety in what you eat gives you a wonderful opportunity to be a very real role model; showing your kids that trying new foods can yield awesome outcomes. So we invite you to step over to the healthyish side too.

If lunchboxes are a daily struggle for you, tell us why and over time we hope you will find something here to help you out. If you have any great suggestions, we would love to hear those too! We have an ongoing survey here that you can fill out to add to our database of lunchbox tips and tricks, takes only a minute or two to complete, and that we can all benefit from.

If my lunchbox voyeurism has taught me anything, it’s that although we are all different, and no one fix can help all kids, there are a lot of families, at least in our little school, that do a really great job of packing healthy, fun lunchboxes. So it’s absolutely possible, and not at all a holy grail.

There’s also a bandwagon effect, and when enough kids come to school with carrot sticks and apple slices, instead of a packet of crisps, then the kids don’t seem to have a problem with their healthy lunchbox. So our dream is for it to become simple to make a healthy lunchbox, so that we can all do it and kids come to see that as the norm, not the weird.

So, we would love to create a community of people exchanging ideas, both helping and getting help. No two kids are the same, so nothing is ever a blanket-fix, but if we start small, you never know what might happen.

Love, Ali

Image: Braydon Anderson/

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