Healthy Lunchbox Ideas for your Smallies

So I got a little bit mad. The 7 news report last night Down Under did a “helpful” section for parents packing school lunches. Among other junk, they suggested the best thing to pack is a sandwich and yoghurt. The reporter actually said “we all know the best thing to pack is a sandwich”. Um, no? No, we definitely do not all know that! Some of us know the physiological effects of grains on little (and big!) bodies and developing brains.

The body uses one wholegrain sandwich the same as six teaspoons of sugar. If you wouldn’t give your kid six teaspoons of sugar for lunch and then expect them to sit and concentrate and learn well for the afternoon, don’t pack them a sandwich for lunch. Nope, not even a wholegrain one.

Picture this. Your child grabs a small paper packet of sugar from the table of the restaurant you are sitting in, flicks back his angelic mop of curly hair and slogs the sugar straight down the back of his throat, flops his head back down and smiles at you devilishly, all before you have a chance to say “don’t you dare swallow that sugar you little brat, don’t you know how bad that is for your body?” Now picture this. Your angel is now sitting in the school playground, he is tipping his head back again and again until six of those sugar packets are strewn around his feet. Imagine how he will act when he gets back into the classroom – watch in your mind as he hits his high and then crashes back down again shortly after.

Now imagine that your child has a sandwich in his little hands and watch as the same behaviours plague him after he eats it.

It seems so incredible that we would give a child all that sugar but a sandwich is apparently okay.

And yoghurt. Blaaargh. I have ranted about the harmful effects of conventional yoghurt before (especially the little tubs marketed for school lunches!) so I won’t go into it again.

The basics are: yoghurts are full of harmful sugars, preservatives and artificial colours and flavours. This will impact your child’s ability to learn new information and to concentrate in class. Conventional dairy is also produced so that the enzymes that allow us to break down and digest the product are removed. Yeppers, you read that right – the dairy you are giving your kiddo does not have in it what your kiddo needs to digest it.

Since your smallies are heading back to school tomorrow I thought I better set you straight. It’s time to think outside the lunchbox. And guess what? When you remove inflammatory foods from your child’s lunchbox you will probably end up with more variety in what you pack even though your first thought may be that you’ll be reducing your kid’s range of foods. Without that stale sandwich in their lunch everyday you’ll find yourself being more creative and getting a wider variety of nutrients into their diet. Can only be a good thing right?

Firstly, I want to mention a couple of things that may help your transition to “no-junk” whole food lunchboxes slightly smoother. You want your small fry to develop a lifelong positive relationship with food and feel like they are having this change “done with them” rather than “done to them”. The quickest way to get resistance is to not involve your child in the switch.

Talk to them about food as fuel and food as medicine and point out when their behaviours and feelings could be linked to the food they put in their body. Talk to them about how food impacts your body, about how it makes your skin look, how it gives you headaches, allergies, stomach aches – whatever problem they know you have. Tell them that this stuff won’t be in the house anymore, let them know that “when this pack of muesli bars is finished kiddo there won’t be any more”.

Let them know that they can still choose what they eat outside the house but let them know that when they behave poorly or have a sore tummy or complain of a headache or get moody after a poor food choice you won’t be giving out sympathy.

When they do make choices that you can’t control (like swapping lunch at school!), explore that with them. You might say “Gee kiddo, you seem really frustrated and angry. What have you done differently today?” Or “Wow buddy that was a major meltdown. Do you think you just yelled at me like that because of the two minute noodles you chose to have after school? Okay so what can we do to make you feel better?”

Compare this to “Don’t you dare talk to me like that. Get to your room right now”. Which response are they more likely to learn from and respond to better? Which one will cause more change in their behaviour in future? Is it about you getting respect and being right in that moment, or is it about them learning skills to control their emotions and food choices for the rest of their lives? Pointing out the impacts of food is far more effective than telling your child “eat this because I am your father and I said so”.

Sit down and write a long list of all the foods you could put in your child’s lunchbox. You want a source of fat, protein, some safe starch vegetable and a “treat” in the lunch box. Put a few options under each of these headings. The fat should come from healthy good-quality sources like grass-fed meat, pasture-raised eggs, coconut oil, avocado, cold-pressed olive oil, macadamia oil or avocado oil. Once you have a list of practical options, let your child tick the ones that they accept – this may start out pretty small but hopefully as their tastebuds get accustomed to real food again and not artificial packaged foods, they will add more ticks to the list.

The main event.

The biggest portion of the lunchbox should be a good-quality source of protein and fat. This would usually be the sandwich, so what can we substitute bread for?

*Egg wraps are an awesome alternative to bread wraps. Fry up a couple of eggs into an omelette and wrap up their lunch meat with the egg.

*Purée lettuces and kale (not ice-berg lettuce – use watercress, romaine, arugula, or butter lettuce) and some herbs like chives or rosemary, then mix with a couple of eggs and fry into a thin layer on the pan to peel off and use as a wrap.

*Or just use the meat as the wrap! Ask to see the label for the meat at the store because they may be pumped full of sugars and fillers like wood shavings to bulk them up…or better still, get a big slab of turkey or ham from your butcher and cut the slices yourself. Then wrap up a baby carrot, some cucumber, a slither of avocado, lettuce (anything you would normally put in their salad sandwich except cheese and sugar-laden spreads. Try homemade sauce with real tomatoes OR paleo mayo OR Tesse Mae’s clean condiments.)

*Big mushrooms make awesome “bread slices” as do pumpkin slices, potato slices, silver beet, nori seaweed rolls and beetroot leaves.

What else can we use as the “main meal”?

Leftover meat. Put your leftover roast chicken, roast beef strips or pork rashers into your kid’s lunchbox to eat cold and they’ll be bursting with energy for the afternoon.

Egg muffins. Crack a pasture-raised egg into a patty pan in a muffin tin (line with prosciutto if you can be arsed), plonk in some small chunks of mushroom, capsicum, rocket lettuce (anything your child likes that is a vegetable – except corn. Corn is not a vegetable, it is incredibly hard for us to digest and the farmer’s use hazmat when harvesting it so it is almost certainly very toxic), cook in the oven for a few minutes and add one or two to your child’s lunch each day.

Lightly steamed broccoli with diced bacon, chives or spring onions, my paleo mayo and some pecans or slivered almonds or sunflower seeds if no nuts allowed. Or use this mayo if your kid tolerates eggs.

Thinly slice Brussel sprouts, onion, garlic and bacon pieces, fry them in coconut oil and maple syrup until they are caramelised and the kid can eat them cold. Don’t assume that your child hates Brussel sprouts just because you do!

Make some meatballs out of mince meat, eggs, herbs and some grated carrot and zucchinni for dinner and chuck a couple of extras into the kid’s lunch the next day or make a big batch and freeze them, adding three or four to their lunch whenever you don’t have anything fresh to add.

Cauliflower rice is super tasty and can be eaten cold. Steam some cauliflower, blend it up into “rice” like chunks, add the vegetables that your child likes and some sultanas to sweeten it and it will be a perfect lunch for your child to goggle down quickly (lesbehonest your small fry isn’t sitting down to eat their lunch mindfully, chewing slowly and savouring every bite – they want to get that grub down quick smart so they can hit the playground).

My clean cabbage and bacon slop is also perfect to eat cold and packed with the type of nutrients that will let your kid float through school with it’s myriad of germs and stay strong and healthy.

Boiled eggs. At the start of the week boil a s^*$ load of eggs and chuck one in their lunchbox every day. If you want to get creative you can also make them into mini-sandwiches. I created a “curried egg” without the curry by mashing the boiled egg yolk into blended dates and brazil nuts and spreading it back into the middle of the egg – amazing!

Tins of wild-caught salmon or sardines in cold-pressed olive oil. If your kid likes these and doesn’t mind the smell scaring the other kids off, this is an extremely nutrient-dense meal for your child and super easy for you to pack. Seaweed “chips” are also a great snack that you can get in a packet that would actually be great for your kid to eat.

The sideshow
The next big representer in the box should be veggie carbs. Try these options:

*Raw veg skewers with baby tomatoes, cucumber chunks, radish, and all three coloured capsicums.

*Raw shredded zucchini and carrot covered in cold-pressed olive oil and Himalayan salt or unrefined sea salt.

*Whole baby cucumbers, radishes and baby carrots. You don’t even have to chop them! But scrub them if you haven’t gotten them straight out of your garden or organically grown from a farmer’s market (the best way to get a kid to “buy into” this way of eating is to get them to grow their own foods!)

*Chips! Roasted chunks of sweet potato, plantains, turnips, fennel, or pumpkin cooked in coconut oil or animal fat and sea salt, served cold.

*Carrot, cucumber, and capsicum slices with a dip in a little container (avocado mashed with lemon juice OR paleo mayo OR coconut aminos OR sunflower seed butter).

*Chunks of avocado spritzed with fresh lemon juice to keep it green not brown!

The crowd controller.
Okay, let’s be real for a second. I know a lot of you are worried that your kid won’t fit in at school. That they will get teased and peer pressured about eating heathy weird food at school. Are you also worried about his resilience? Are you worried that she’ll start smoking when she’s 14 because all the other kids are doing it? What kind of message do you want to send them? To be healthy and proud of their choices and to stand up for themselves? Or to just do whatever the others are doing even if it is unhealthy?

But if there is any way you can make this journey towards being a tough and healthy adult easier for your kids then paleo treats may be your saviour.

Fruit is a treat. By reducing the packaged processed foods in your child’s diet, they will start to appreciate the sweetness of fruit again and will be excited to see it in their lunchbox. This removes the necessity of having “paleo baked goods” every day.

Pack a “lolly jar” every now and then as a treat and the other kids will be fighting to share it. Put raspberries, blueberries, purple and green grapes, and mandarin pieces in it. I had a jar similar to this sitting on a picnic rug a few weeks ago and not only did my friend’s young rug rats dig in but also a couple of toddlers from another random family at the park came over and stuck their little hands into my lolly jar!! Otherwise just chuck in a whole banana, apple, peach, kiwi fruit, etc. That is all the treat they should need once their taste buds return to normal.

But for the transition period when your kid may find it hard to eat just whole foods, here are some simple and gluten-free treats to include:

*Coconut yoghurt (homemade or sourced organically without gums and fillers).

*Date rolls. Blend up dates with coconut oil, roll into balls and press desiccated coconut onto the outside. Yummy, super sweet and easy.

*Muffins. Savoury or sweet. Bake some pumpkin puree with coconut flour and add any other vegetables that your small fry loves. Google “pale muffin” and you’ll get a bucket-load of hits.

*Banana cupcakes 

*”Muesli bars” without muesli! Make them without the nuts (double the seeds) if the school is nut-free. Press them into a cake tin and slice into bars.

*Fudgy wudgy cookies 

*Mousse. For nutrient-dense, dairy free mousse that will be an awesome treat in your kid’s lunch, see chocolate mousse here and vanilla mousse here.

*Organic potato chips in sea salt and palm oil from the supermarket. These come in adult size packs in the health food aisle and will get expensive if you rely on them for every lunchbox. I would divide it into a few small bags and give them as a special treat every now and then.

*Google “paleo zucchini chocolate bread” and you will be able to sneak more greens into your smallies lunchbox without them noticing.

*Purée fruit and put it into a little container so that is looks similar to the junk that the other kids have. All you have to do is blend up an apple and some raspberries in a blender. That’s it. Make any fruit combo that your kid loves.

*Add little containers with almond butter (peanut butter is high in omega 6 which damages brain function when omega 3 is low in the diet, PB is also a legume which is hard to digest) or sunflower seed butter if they can’t have nuts at school (make your own by blending the nuts or seeds up until they become a paste or get them from the health food section of the supermarket). Give them slices of banana or apple to dip into the butter. Spread almond butter or tahini (also in the health food aisle and is sesames not nuts) into celery sticks and add sultanas (check they don’t have nasty preservatives on them as much dried fruit does) for a fun treat.

*Shrimp fried in salt and coconut oil to eat cold. Don’t expect your kids not to like these things – they just might surprise you!

*Banana pancakes (mash a banana with a couple of eggs and fry into a pancake) spread with sunflower seed butter.

*Chocolate peanut butter cups with a twist.

*Homemade trail mix with dried fruit, nuts and seeds. Be wary about dried fruit as it is a concentrated source of sugar and often contains nasty preservatives on the outside.

*Water. Seriously, that’s it. Pretty please don’t send juice, or cordial or (gasp) energy drinks in your kid’s school bag. If you need to squirt a dash of juice from a lemon or orange into their drink or send some homemade almond milk or coconut milk to school during “transition” to whole foods that would be okay.

These are some awesome ideas in this post by Nom Nom Paleo and some links to other awesome ideas too.

The morning breakfast is very important and the last thing you want to be doing is setting your kid up for a long day with cereal and milk. Eek. This is a good alternative, homemade granola but your best option is fried or scrambled eggs on sweet potato and some dark leafy greens.

So if you are poised above your kid’s lunchbox about to drop in a muesli bar, stop. Just don’t. Don’t. Do. It. Not just for the sake of your smallies little bodies and brains, but for your own sanity too. The less packaged junk in your child’s lunchbox, the less energy you have to expend dealing with bad behaviour and looking after sick kids.

Enjoy those kids! (And enjoy the time they are at school too…)


Lettuce “bunless burgers”


Choc mousse




Choc fudgy wudgy cookies


Banana muffins


Pumpkin muffins


Choc “peanut butter” cups


Crystal cupcakes – muesli bar alternative


Raw protein balls


Sweet potato chips, silverbeet lettuce wraps, tuna and avo salad, protein balls, steamed broccoli and bacon salad, kale chips


Rainbow chard lettuce wraps with cauliflower rice inside


Pumpkin puree and almond meal bread, celery and tahini with sultanas, whole fruit, trail mix, pomegranate “lollies”, raw vegetables with homemade fruit tomato chutney


Turkey meat wrapped around carrot, cucumber and avo. Raw veg. Celery and tahini. Trail mix.


Salad jar of raw vegetables


Lolly jar and cucumber jar. Glass is not ideal for school so grab some BPA-free containers.


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