Lunchbox 101: The Basics of a Nutritious School Lunch

Given the increasing availability of pre-packaged foods over the last couple of decades, it’s easy to fall into the trap of opting for convenience foods for your children’s lunchboxes. The catch is, these foods rarely offer the essential nutrients to keep little ones functioning and to support their growing bodies.

Not to mention, if your child has diabetes you’ve also got the added challenge of helping manage their blood sugar levels throughout the day.

According to Dietitian Kate Save, the key to creating a healthy, nutritious lunch for children with or without diabetes is keeping it nude, simple and healthy.

Plenty of energy

Children consume about 30 per cent of their daily food intake at school making it extra important to ensure the meals they are eating are nutritious, healthy and full of natural energy to keep them going.

For children with diabetes that means ensuring they are eating regular meals, including breakfast, snacks and lunch, to help stabilise healthy blood glucose and energy levels.

Expert tip: Look for foods which contain a good balance of wholegrain carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats. For example, choose a multigrain wrap with either hommus or avocado and fresh chicken breast.

Opt for fresh over pre-packaged foods

Kate said the key was to avoid pre-packaged snack foods including sugary bars, snack packs and fried chips. Offering children food that was as close to its natural source as possible was very important.

“When you choose pre-made foods, you are adding sugar, sodium, preservatives and oils to your child’s diet without even thinking about it,” Kate said.

Expert tip: Think dips made from avocado, lemon juice and a little bit of cream cheese rather than dips out of plastic containers. Or experiment with making a homemade fruit and muesli slice.

The easiest way to achieve this is to shop in the outside aisles of the supermarket.

David Gillespie, author of The Eat Real Food cookbook agreed, saying the best food for children, and adults, could be found on the outside of the supermarket shelves – the fruit, the vegetables and the lean meat and fish.

Aim to hit the recommended daily servings for kids

According to the experts, children’s lunchboxes should include:

  • One to two pieces of fruit a day, such as an apple and banana
  • Three to four serves of dairy, such as cheese and yoghurt
  • Plenty of wholegrain breads and cereals
  • Protein such as fish and lean meat

Expert tip: Grilled chicken and tuna were also important and could often be easily overlooked as a lunchbox staple.

Kate acknowledges that mastering the school lunch box can be difficult, especially given the number of allergies many children have at schools now. However, she recommends getting back to basics and packing a banana, trying some yoghurt or even going the extra mile and baking a homemade oat-based muesli slice.

“Cubed cheeses with carrot, sultanas and apples are good choices offering flavour and variety of food sources, while wholegrains and lean meats are essential,” she said.


Kate Save is an accredited Dietitian and Exercise Physiologist with more than 10 years’ experience helping patients manage their diabetes.

She has been engaged by Sanofi to provide regular expert commentary for Diabetes-Care. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the view of Sanofi. 


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