4 dietitians give us a peek inside their kids’ lunchboxes

By Shayl Prisk |

You’ve heard that classic mum and dad joke: If only there was a training manual to help navigate the twists and turns of parenthood. Decoding parenting today mostly comes down to trial and error, Google and a whole lot of good intention.

But what about the experts? Surely they must have some insider wisdom they can share with us laymen?

Indeed they do, and this week we asked four dietitians to give us a glimpse inside their kid’s lunchboxes, so we can at least get that one down pat.

Here’s what these food and nutrition experts pack for school lunches on an average day:

1. Dr. Joanna McMillian – nutritionist, accredited practicing dietitian, sports dietitian, nutrition columnist for Sunday Life.

I basically use what I call my Dr. Joanna Plate, modified for kids. That includes a few variations on any of these ingredients:

1. Plant foods like carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, apple slices, strawberries, a banana. I find keeping veggies separate usually works better than in their sandwich.
2. Protein-rich foods such as leftover meats from dinner or a hard boiled egg are great for sandwich fillings, as well as cheese or tuna.
3. A smart carb or two, like wholegrain bread or wraps, wholegrain pasta or brown rice, or an oat-based snack bar.
4. A source of good fats, for example avocado, hummus or seeds/a seed spread (because nuts are not allowed at school).

This translates into a main event such as a wholegrain sandwich or wrap (but could be a wholegrain pasta, brown rice or quinoa salad for more adventurous kids) with a protein-rich filling plus some sliced fruit – often apple with a chunk of cheese. If I don’t have cheese I add another dairy food for extra protein and calcium such as a yoghurt, and then add something for recess.

While homemade is great I, like most mums, find it convenient to have something in the pantry that ticks my nutrition boxes but the kids also like. I’ve partnered this year with Freedom Foods because their philosophies are very much aligned with mine and their new bars are terrific. They’re head and shoulders above most other offerings in the supermarket. Finally I always put a stainless steel bottle of water in their bag – I never give them any kind of juice to take to school.

Note: Dr. Joanna McMillian is currently an ambassador for the Freedom Foods brand.


2. Marieke Rodenstein – qualified dietitian and nutritionist.

For my son, today I made a quick and easy sweet potato dip from left-over roasted sweet potato blended with a little salt, pepper, olive oil and homemade sour cream. Sweet potatoes are a great source of complex carbohydrates that provide kids with a steady supply of energy. Sweet potato is also packed full of nutrients including beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin B6, manganese, potassium and folate and is a great source of gut-friendly soluble fibre. My son had this with some cucumber and purple carrot sticks.

I also included some antioxidant-rich blueberries and a boiled egg. Eggs are one of the most inexpensive, easy to prepare, convenient and tasty foods around and they really pack a nutritional punch. Rich in brain-boosting omega 3 fats, zinc and choline, they are a staple breakfast or lunch food for my son.

This lunch provided 300 calories of which 47% came from carbohydrates, 40% from fats and 13% from protein.


4. Arabella Forge – journalist, nutritionist, former dietitian and author of Frugavore.

My son doesn’t usually eat sandwiches so I find a lunchbox with compartments really useful. I try to include a good source of protein – leftover roast lamb, chicken or cold-cut free range ham. Plus some fruits and vegetables that he will actually eat. I include some sauerkraut and cultured beet, as these are very healthy and go down really well.

We make our own yoghurt at home, so I usually pack a tub and top it with frozen berries to keep it cool. I also like to add some slices of sourdough bread spread with butter, which my son likes to top with cheese.


Kate Callaghan – holistic nutritionist, dietitian, personal and lifestyle trainer.

Morning tea: One piece of fresh fruit (for example a kiwifruit, a peach, or whatever is in season) or 1/2-1 cup berries (kids only need 1 piece of fruit max per day) served with a couple of slices of good quality, full fat cheese such as gouda, which is high in vitamin K2 (important for good, strong bones).

Lunch: Small handful of cold meat or 1-2 boiled eggs served with some roast sweet potato (1/2 cup leftover from dinner), cucumber, a few cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks and a slice of avocado.

Why: It’s important to give kids a good mix of high quality protein, fats and carbs to keep their bodies and brains functioning at optimal levels! This combination of food provides all of this and is completely free of sugar, preservatives, and artificial flavours and sweeteners.

Note: Kate Callaghan is about to give birth to her first child, so this lunch box scenario is hypothetical until her little one hits the school yard!

Do you think kids’ lunches need to improve in school canteens?

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