That's because it is not just about adding foods we know a child will eat, but adding something different AND healthy AND that will still be eaten.
Children aren’t born with a love of fast food and an aversion to vegetables. This conditioning happens over time , and it is possible to reprogram food cravings. Given a child consumes two to three meals a day at school, clearly what is eaten away from home is as important as what is consumed when kids come home.
But it is not easy. Mum of two, Ilke Vergel told WhichSchoolAdvisor,com:
"Hot food is a just a no, no. I need to prepare lunchboxes at 6:30 am which children get to eat at noon. I haven't been able to find a lunch box that'll keep the food hot."
A number of mums said the challenge is to think of new things to make every day.
Kavitha Prabhakaran said:
"Its difficult to get variety every week, and then making sure you have all the ingredients to stick to any sort of menu."
Katie Fielder, mum and broadcaster says mastering the art of prepping is one key.
"I like to set one-two hours aside every fortnight to stock the freezer with some easy school lunch box ideas. I like to make energy balls filled with pumpkin seeds, oats, coconut, dried fruit and chia seeds (anything nut-free to keep it school-friendly), carrot and apple cinnamon muffins, healthy banana bread, sweet potato and corn pancakes, turkey parmesan and basil meatballs etc."
Ms Fielder further added that she makes little bags of homemade popcorn (the oil-free kind) or homemade muesli to stash in the pantry cupboard for healthy but satisfyingly crunchy lunchbox snacks.
"If I have prepped before hand, in the morning it only takes a couple of minutes to add some fresh fruit, veggie sticks and a piece of cheese or frozen yoghurt box to their lunch boxes."
Another mum Rohini Rego tries to pack a healthy lunch but always finds herself asking: "Will my child actually eat this healthy food I have packed?”
Banin Shanine, Nutrition Manager at Fitness First, says its important to pack a healthy and balanced lunch box.
"Healthy carbs are essential to provide the energy and concentration needed to get through those afternoon classes. Whole wheat bread, pasta, brown rice or popcorn are some good options to include in a lunch."
She says one serving of fruit is needed to strengthen the immune system and help fight illnesses and one serving of vegetables like baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers or broccoli are usually most appealing to the kids.
"Include full fat milk to provide a high amount of protein as it's low in sugar compared to low fat alternatives. Full fat milk is also naturally high in vitamin D."
There are some children who never finish their snack and/or lunch in school, who are also fussy eaters.
For fussy eaters, Ms Shanine suggests to start adding foods that they would not usually eat, in a very small quantity.
"Send some foods that your child is not familiar with to share with friends – if they see their friends enjoying it, maybe they will try it too."
Catherine Williams, mum and women's health and fitness coach has devised a way to keep her children well hydrated - gamification.
"When we go on holiday for example, we have a competition to see who can drink the most water door to door from holiday spot to being back in our own home, or from the car to the house and so on.... This way we all are as hydrated as we could possibly be - and they don't need convincing!"
Parents and educationalists increasingly point to the mounting evidence that not only are we what we eat, but diet is incredibly important to a child's performance at school.
Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and ADHD have all been linked to diet.
Cutting out refined sugars, for example, not only help with concentration, but prevent hyper activity and anti-social behaviour.
Here are just some foods that Ms Shanine suggests we avoid, and what we should replace them with:
|Croissant, Manakeesh, White breads||Whole wheat bread sandwiches|
|Juices||Apple or Banana|
|French fries||Grilled fries, salted lightly|
|Ice cream||Yogurt; sorbet; fresh fruit smoothies|
|Fried chicken||Baked or grilled chicken|
|Doughnuts or pastries||Bagels; muffins; home baked goods with less sugar|
|Chocolate-chip cookies||Fig bars, vanilla wafers, fruit and caramel dip|
|Potato chips||Baked vegetable chips or, for older children, nuts|
Simple or refined carbohydrates are also sugars, while refined grains have been stripped of all the good stuff - bran, fiber, and nutrients.
White bread, pizza dough, pasta, pastries, white flour, white rice, and many breakfast cereals should be avoided. They may cause spikes in blood sugar and fluctuations in mood and energy.
Conversely, complex carbs are, in general, high in nutrients and fiber and are digested slowly, providing long lasting energy.
They include whole wheat or multigrain bread, high-fiber cereals, brown rice, beans, nuts, fruit, and non-starchy vegetables.
Keeping food healthy and interesting is not always easy, but long term not only do we do our children a huge service by keeping lunch boxes healthy, but the better moods and behavior of our kids only help keep us sane too!