And so we are heading back to school. And that means lunchboxes. If you’re looking at this, you may be in need of some guidance. There is an extraordinary number of lunchbox options, and opinions on what to put in them. In this article you can find our take on what to put into a lunchbox, ways to choose a lunchbox, and some current lunchbox options.
What on earth do I pack in a lunchbox?
Start by thinking about what your kid is used to eating at home for morning tea and lunch. For a healthy lunchbox, try to aim for variety, with a combination of protein, carbs, fruit and veg, dairy and a small treat. Water is the only drink they need.
Beyond that, if your kid is starting at a new school, or is starting in Kindergarten this year, we’d suggest doing some detective work at school and sussing out how break times work, as it is different in every school. Some things that will help to know:
- What time is recess and lunch? (recess is usually around 11 – some pre-school kids have had their morning tea and lunch by then!)
- How long are recess and lunch?
- Is there a set time for sitting and eating before they are allowed to play?
- Do teachers check if kids throw food out? (Our school had a policy in kindergarten that kids were to leave all rubbish and uneaten food in their lunchbox so parents could see what was not getting eaten)
- Do you do Nude Food?
- Does your school have Crunch & Sip? If so, you’ll need a lunchbox with at least 3 compartments (C&S, Recess and Lunch)
- Where are lunchboxes kept between recess and lunch (this matters because if they are left in a tub in the playground, you definitely need an icepack).
- Is the school nut free? (and if not, maybe check if there are any anaphylactic kids in your child’s class anyway)
- Is there a canteen, and if so what is the menu like? (we do a canteen day on Fridays because… well, just because)
The answers to these questions will tell you how much of what to pack, and will guide you on how to pack a lunch for them. If Nude Food is a thing for you, choose a lunchbox with non-spill compartments, and a section for sandwiches (if your kid is a sandwich kid). If they do Crunch & Sip, you’ll need a spot for that in addition to recess and lunch.
Other things to consider:
Chatting to your kid conversationally about what goes down at recess and lunch is a great way to get your lunchbox eaten. Maybe they are starving at recess, and eat all their recess and lunch then. Maybe there is a some long running game happening that only happens at lunch. Knowing some of these things will help you pack a lunch that actually gets eaten. Sometimes recess is on at a time pretty close to when your kid would normally have lunch, meaning they are starving at recess – so that would be your chance for maximum healthy food intake.
When looking at buying a lunchbox, the respondents to our lunchbox survey have come back with the following major criteria – which makes a great checklist for choosing a lunchbox:
- Easy to clean (dishwasher safe)
- Divided into sections
- Suitable for Nude Food
- Practicality (does it fit all the food required, does the lid stay on, can the kids open the lid etc)
- Size suitable for your child’s needs
- Ability to keep contents cool
- Space for a sandwich / option for a thermos
What lunchbox options are out there?
Some popular options for lunchboxes are:
- an insulated bag with a cold pack and either a lunchbox with internal dividers or a set of different containers inside. I personally find the set of containers a bit of a nightmare to clean so i go with lunchbox that has built in dividers or a separate tray that can go into the dishwasher
- thermos in an insulated lunch bag plus other containers
- plain lunchbox such as the sistema ‘cube’ or ‘salad to go’. these both have space for lunch, plus other sections for recess / crunch and sip etc. The cube is a great one for sandwich loving kids as there is a great section that keeps wrap-free sandwiches from slipping around.
- Instagram loves the bento-style lunchbox, but none of our respondents actually use one! I personally find it easier to have slightly larger compartments that can cater for a wider variety of food (read that as… I dump the contents of my fridge’s crisper into the lunchbox at random and most certainly do not arrange by colour – but each to their own!). I’d love to hear some feedback on the bento lunchbox via our survey if you do use one.
- A lunchbox such as the quaddie has a top tray with flap lids that make it a pain to simply stick in the dishwasher. The flap lids have also invariably broken off quite quickly in our house.
- This year we have bought a set from Kmart that is working quite well: holds everything in place and simple to use. It fits neatly into a kmart lunchbox cooler bag too.
- For Kid B we are trying the Bento SwitchUp from Coles/Big W/Target which is nice for the more fashion conscious kid, and also fits neatly into a Smash cooler bag, though it comes with a removable insulation ‘skin’ in a bunch of different designs. It has two removable dividing sections that are really good and provide options for different lunch choices. There have however been complaints of unfurled sandwiches.
We’d love to hear what lunchboxes you use in your family – and if they are any good. Let us know via our Lunchbox Love/Hate survey.