School Lunchbox Guide: A Little Vent And Some Hopefully Helpful Tips

It’s back to school time, it has been since the week before the school holidays.

The time of year where the food section of every magazine and newspaper is filled with lunchbox ideas. “Healthy back to school snacks” “variety in the lunchbox”, “kids will love these healthy somethings”.

Lads, it’s time for a reality check.  I’ve had enough of the back to school lunchbox guides. I’m over them. They are just so far off what a child will happily bring in their lunchbox.

Even my (one) vegetable eating child will not be bringing raw broccoli as a “brain boost”. If I see one more article suggesting nuts as “an energy powerpack” I will explode.

These articles no more reflect reality than my wishlist on net-a-porter. Yes, I’d love that Victoria Beckham dress that costs €1500 but it ain’t gonna happen. Ditto my kids bringing bulgur wheat salad with broad beans and alfalfa sprouts in their school lunchboxes.

You see, here’s the thing.

Most of these “lunchbox suggestions” are fiddly to eat, and have so many ingredients that they’re not going to happen on a Monday night in Mullingar (or any night in my kitchen).
And many of the “healthy recipes” contain nuts or nut butters, which while great for energy and protein are banned in most schools since many children are highly allergic.

These features are space fillers, treat them the same way you do the fashion mags. Ooh and ahh but don’t expect this fancyness to ever enter your house.

Your child who refuses declines all vegetables unless “hidden” in soup is unlikely to enjoy a bean and herb wrap. Similar fate will meet a carrot cut into the shape of a bunny.

Guacamole will not go down well with the child who doesn’t “eat green”. GIVE ME A BREAK.

That’s the vent bit over. Here are the hopefully helpful tips.


photo credit: My life. My sandwich. via photopin (license)

The Hopefully Helpful Lunchbox Tips 

1. Give them stuff they recognise. Don’t get hung up on sending in new things.

2. Give them stuff you know they’ll eat. Don’t get hung up on variety, school lunch should be about getting food into them not a place to experiment, do that at home.

3. Stick with the school’s healthy eating policy, and respect it. Sometimes things will be on the banned list for cleaning reasons as opposed to unhealthy reasons, but the rules are the rules, so give a good example and respect them.

4. Steer clear of anything too sugary. (Cereal bars I’m eyeballing you).

5. If your child is a messy eater limit yogurt to the day you planned to wash their school jumper anyway.

6. Get them into the habit of water only as a drink for school from the beginning.

7. Ditto wholemeal rather than white breads where possible, let them expect the healthier option for school.

7. If your child asks not to be given a particular food ask why and don’t discount their reason – sometimes kids tease others about what’s in their lunchbox, so while your child might happily eat something at home they may not want it for school.

8. Find something they’ll eat, and go with it. Better a child who eats a plain ham wrap every day than a hungry child who refuses his salad pot and has hanger (anger and hunger combined) meltdowns.

9. Cutting the food they hate into interesting shapes does not guarantee that they will eat it in school and making fancy themed bento boxes may serve to only make other kids (and their parents) jealous. We’re all in this together.

“A sure fire way to make you the least popular parent in the class”photo credit: preschool Firetruck Fire Engine lunch via photopin
There are exceptions of course to the unhelpful articles – these two sites have great lunchbox resources.

Gimme the Recipe definitive lunchbox guide

Safefood Healthy Lunchboxes Guide

And if you do like fancy lunchboxes check out this blog



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  1. Yes by one million to all of it – love it!

  2. Brilliant! My baby is only nine months old so I don’t have to do the school lunches yet but some of those recipes would have you coking for an hour and cutting animal shapes into everything! I was feeling the pressure just reading about it. Great list!!!

  3. Amen! Too young for school lunchboxes here yet, but I agree wholeheartedly about the ‘give them something they recognise and leave the experimenting for home’. We do that now with S even though he’s only a toddler – if we’re going out to an event or a party or asking his grandparents to mind him, I pack the cheese and bread and butter and apple I know he’ll eat. If I try a new recipe or a new vegetable, I do that at home and at least if he won’t eat it, I can do something about it, rather than having him, as you say, hangry, when out and about. Simple food can be healthy too, just cos it’s not alfalfa sprouts doesn’t mean they’re getting a rubbish lunch. I’m a SAHM and even with that, I cannot see myself having the time to cut things into shapes every day, so I’d rather keep it simple, healthy and something they’ll eat and enjoy, for all our sakes.

  4. I don’t have to do school lunches yet either, but they’ll definitely be a continuation of the foods we currently bring out of the house. Bread, cheese, pasta. Anything quick and easy that gets eaten. Who has time to be buying all these fresh ingredients and making up little fancy samples that may or may not be eaten?!

  5. We don’t have lunch boxes but BRAVO: what rational, clear and sensible advice you have given! (I have to confess, though, I’d love to have the time and energy to make that fire engine lunchbox. For me)

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  7. Great post Sinead. I was already hating all those thousands of cute bento box visually stylish lunches that my kid was NEVER going to have.

  8. Brilliant post! All so very true! 🙂

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