NOW September’s here, parents are once again turning their minds to packing lunch boxes for their children. Research shows about 57 per cent of children don’t eat school meals, meaning parents have the daily chore of buying and preparing packed lunches for their kids.

Indeed, a survey found that more than half (55 per cent) of mothers would rather their child has a packed lunch, and six out of ten (66 per cent) think a lunchbox is a healthier alternative to school food.

However, 61 per cent of mums questioned for the Organix No Junk Challenge Lunchbox Campaign said they found it difficult to make their child’s lunchbox varied and interesting, and 57 per cent said they needed more advice on what should go in a child’s lunchbox.

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Jenny Tschiesche runs The Lunchbox Doctor website to provide recipes, lunchbox ideas and nutrition advice, and is supporting the No Junk Challenge, which aims to encourage parents to cook with fresh natural ingredients.

She says: “We don’t have to put things in lunchboxes when they’re not ideal for our children. Parents can produce something for the same price, or less, than a school meal, using ‘real’ food, and it can be better nutritionally.”

The Organix survey found that sandwiches are the lunchbox staple for 81 per cent of children.

“It’s a common mistake to use white bread, and also to not use a protein filling,” she says. “A lot of parents will use jam or chocolate spread because they know their child will eat it.

“But there’s no fibre in the white bread, and no protein in the filling, and that combined lack of sustenance means kids are likely to have a burst of energy which might last while they’re running round the playground at lunchtime, but they’ll be suffering an hour or two after that.”

She says that as well as the white bread sandwich, children are often given crisps and a sweet bar or a dried fruit and cereal bar.

“We’ve been led to believe these cereal bars are a much healthier prospect, but often the bars have more sugar in them than the sugary cereals,” she says.

“Even though they might have some seeds in them, at best, all the sugar just fuels this burst of energy followed by a lull in the middle of the afternoon.

“All of it’s targeted at convenience.

If you’re a parent, you’re busy by definition, and many products say ‘ideal for lunchboxes’. That can mean it’s attractive and colourful for the child, and simple to pack, but it doesn’t mean it’s ideal for the child’s health, wellbeing and sustenance.”

Indeed, the survey found that nearly all mums (97 per cent) want more healthy options for lunchboxes for their children.

Tschiesche suggests parents use “real food” such as carrot batons, baby sweetcorn, cucumber sticks or cherry tomatoes, with cream cheese or houmous, as children are more likely to eat vegetables if they’ve got something to dip them in to.

Crackers or oatcakes are also healthy, easy-to-dip alternatives to bread. And if it has to be a sandwich, go for a protein filling such as egg, cheese, ham, tuna or houmous.

And instead of sugary, flavoured yoghurts, try buying natural yoghurt and adding fruit puree.

As for the chocolate bars and crisps that children often nag for, Tschiesche advises: “Let them have the odd bar or whatever occasionally, but give them a smaller version of it, and explain why. Or make your own sweet foods, because you know what you’ve put in it.”

She adds: “Plan ahead, buy things like big chunks of cheese, cut them into small individual portions and wrap them, or put leftovers from your main meal in a flask. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time.”

  • For more information on the No Junk Challenge, visit