Do you send your child to school with a thoughtfully packed lunch box and it often returns home untouched? Feel like your kids are surviving purely on air? The Delivery Magazine’s go-to Nutritionist and Herbalist, Jessica Hoskins of Sage & Folk, shares her top ten tricks to creating healthy lunches that your kids will actually want to eat. 

Involve your child in the process: Allow your child to have input when planning their lunches for the week ahead. By doing so, you may be surprised to find what your they actually like and dislike, e.g. celery, but perhaps only with hummus. Including your child in the preparation of their food is very beneficial as this strategy will give them a sense of empowerment, which is key to getting the most selective kids to eat healthy food.

Replace refined sugar with healthy alternatives: Our kids are eating three to four times the World Health Organisations recommended daily intake! Too much sugar is not only linked to obesity, but also can affect your child’s behaviour and concentration at school or daycare. Naturally sweet foods such as berries, apples and bananas can provide sweetness to yoghurts or even baked goods. To curb sugar cravings, adding vanilla to healthy foods has been proven to work. Snacking on pumpkin seeds may also be helpful due to their magnesium content which is known to moderate blood glucose levels and affect the body’s response to sugar.

Wrap substitutes: The wheat in bread and wraps can have an inflammatory effect on a child’s digestive system and often takes the place of more nutritious foods. Instead of sandwiches every day, mix it up and try some alternatives such as ‘wraps’ with sliced ham, turkey, rice paper or even lettuce leaves replacing the wrap. 

Focus on fresh: The majority of Australians do not eat enough veggies! Fresh vegetables and fruit are packed with phytonutrients and are crucial to good health. I recommend for primary school aged kids to have five servings of colourful vegetables and up to two servings of fruit a day. Try to get as much of these servings into the lunchbox as possible, so that half the battle is won before dinner time. A serving of vegetable is 75g, which is about ½ a cup of veggies, one cup of leafy veggies or one medium vegetable (e.g. carrot). One serving of fruit consists of two small fruits (such as apricots), one medium fruit (e.g. apple) or one cup of berries.

Dips, dips and more dips: If you’re worried that all of those vegetable won’t get eaten, then include a dip! Most kids will love a dip and they are a great way of getting them to eat veggies. Choose a simple additive free dip that they like or better yet D.I.Y. and sneak in some extra nutrition such as kale in hummus or yoghurt in tzatziki.

Include a healthy treat: A healthy lunch box does not mean missing out on a little indulgence. Include balanced treats such as a chia seed pudding, a (nut free) joy ball or a piece of homemade banana bread to keep things interesting.

Don’t forget protein: Many lunch boxes are high in carbohydrates but very low in protein. Protein is not only essential for growth and development, but also keeps kids fuller for longer. A little left over lamb or a hard-boiled egg can be a great addition to a healthy lunch box.

Swap the spreads: Instead of the generic, often high salt/sugar spreads on sandwiches or crackers, try replacing them with alternatives such as a seed spread (often high in essential nutrients and healthy fats), miso paste (great for its probiotic content) or smashed avocado.

Upgrade regular favourites: If your child loves something and you know for sure they will eat it, find a way to make it even better. For example if your child loves muesli bars, look for a healthy whole grain product without the refined sugar and preservatives, or even try making your own.

Get creative: Mealtimes should be a pleasurable and relaxed experience. Add a little amusement into the lunch box by adding lot of colour and texture and even cutting foods into fun shapes. Occasionally adding a little love note or drawing is such a sweet way to bring joy to a meal time.

Jessica’s latest e-guide, The Nourished Toddler, is available now via her website. You can find more of her wisdom on her Instagram account @sageandfolk 

Pictured lunchbox: Seed & Sprout