These back-to-school lunchbox hacks will make your life easier

Why is it that every parent I talk to hates making school lunches?

I did a little survey on my Instagram and found that some of the reasons us parents hate making lunches are as follows :

  • Kids don’t eat them
  • It’s boring - not just making them but what goes into them
  • Our heads hurt thinking of different things to put into the lunch boxes
  • Kids are fussy eaters 
  • It’s hard to find the time to make them

I also hate making school lunches, knowing that as I slice that cucumber, peel carrots or make that beautiful, healthy sandwich, I might as well just pop it straight into the compost and forget about the middle man (or child)

So let’s have a look at these issues:

  1. Kids don’t eat their lunches - the lunch boxes come back full

You’ve spent half an hour prepping a beautiful, Instagrammable lunch box with cucumber flowers, heart shaped sandwiches and colour co-ordinated berries or you’ve chucked a ham and cheese roll and an apple in whatever lunchbox was clean - either way it comes home uneaten and you want to lock yourself in a darkened room and cry bitter, salty tears of frustration. 

But let’s have a think about why the food is coming back uneaten. Is it because they didn’t like what you offered or was it because they weren’t hungry? Or maybe they were distracted, chatting to all their friends or very likely, they didn’t have enough time to eat it.

  • There is no time in the Irish school curriculum currently allocated for eating. They may be allowed a few minutes in class to eat or they may have to take what they can out to the yard and eat it there. This means, in my experience, that if it’s not easily portable (eg. a sandwich and a piece of fruit), then it gets left behind. So bear this is mind when you’re making the lunches.
  • The timing of lunch breaks might also affect what your child eats. If they are eating before going to the yard, which I think is the norm - then maybe ask your school to push eating time back to after yard time. Not only will they be hungrier but they might not be in such a rush to get out to play.
  • There’s all sorts of things going on for kids at school - they might be too busy talking to their friends to eat or they might be anxious about an incident with their friends or an upcoming test after lunch. All these little things might steal your child’s appetite, making them unable or unwilling to eat. 

2. It’s boring making the same things over and over and over again or trying to think of new things to make every day. 

Is it groundhog day in your house when it comes to lunchtime? A ham and cheese sandwich on white bread with a strawberry yoghurt and apple for lunch every day?

  • It's not the end of the world if your child does not have the most amazingly nutritious lunch going to school. In order to fuel them, they have to actually eat what you’re providing. If it comes homes uneaten, then all that lovely nutrition is wasted anyway. So give them what they want with slight variations (eg. different fruit/bread/yoghurt etc.) and don’t stress too much.
  • If they’re not eating at school, beef up their breakfast and after school snack. Ditch the sugar-laden cereals and instead offer eggs (you can scramble eggs in the same amount of time it takes to toast bread), porridge with nuts and fruit, a healthy smoothie or a high protein yoghurt with nuts, seeds and fruit. After-school, give them soup and a cheese wrap or hummus and veggies or even have dinner straight away.
  • Get your children to make their own lunches. This is my ultimate tip and it solves many of the issues parents have with lunch boxes. Plus, it teaches them independence, responsibility and they learn about food. They pick what they want, make their lunches the night before and I clean up the mess and this makes me very happy. My youngest has been making his own lunch since he was six-years-old. If you don’t think your child can manage just yet, then get them to help you.        

3. Having said all that above, it is good to have some variety in the lunch box to avoid food jagging and maximise nutrition.

However, the lunch box is not the time to introduce kids to new foods, especially if they are fussy eaters. This needs to be done at home first, in a relaxed setting, possibly away from the table (food games, food art, sensory food play etc.).

Here’s some simple ways to vary lunch boxes without too much hassle:

  • Use different breads. If they don’t like wholemeal or wholegrain breads, try making sandwiches with one slice of their favourite bread and one slice of your favourite bread and slowly make changes that way.
  • Vary your sandwich fillings - my lot love tuna so sometimes I add grated carrot or diced cucumber or pepper to the tuna mix. I also buy a couple of extra chicken breasts and boil them, (saving the water as chicken stock), chop them and mix with mayonnaise and sweetcorn or cucumber. A mix of cheese and hummus is popular and eggs were too until another child made fun of them so now they’re on the after-school menu.
  • Prep a selection of veggies at the start of the week - pepper, cucumber, baby tomatoes etc. and let them choose what they want each day.

Remember, if they are not eating an ideal lunch, you can make up for it in lots of other ways at home. 

May the force be with you as we all start out on this new back-to-school regime.

As a mum of 3, I know how difficult, challenging and difficult (worth saying twice!) it can be, feeding them a healthy, balanced diet. A couple of years ago, I left my full-time job and retrained as a Health and Nutrition Coach - much to the disgust of my children. My goal is to teach children about the joys of healthy eating (so yes, I know how difficult it is!) through my business, The Cool Food School ( I also like to run, drink coffee and ignore the housework.

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