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How healthy are your kid's lunch boxes?

Every night households across Queensland are packing lunchboxes with a little bit of love, a sandwich, muesli bar, piece of fruit, and a juice popper.

While it seems like a healthy lunch for your growing child, this type of lunchbox could contain almost 14 teaspoons of sugar. This is as much as what the WHO would recommend for a whole day!

Queensland Health advanced nutritionist Mathew Dick said you may not be able to force your children to eat the food you send to school each day.

"But ensuring they go to school with a healthy lunchbox means you’re doing everything you can to provide them with the fuel they need to learn and grow," Mr Dick said.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend children aim for two servings of fruit and five servings of vegetables every day.

"One serve of fruit is an apple or orange. Packing lunchboxes with carrot sticks, beans, cherry tomatoes and hummus is also an easy way to increase vegie consumption," Mr Dick said.

The Guidelines also recommend daily servings of grains (wholegrain bread, wholemeal pasta, brown rice), lean meats and alternatives (fish, eggs, legumes/beans, nuts and seeds) and dairy foods and their alternatives (soy milk and yoghurt).

“Why not try a homemade pasta salad with lots of leftover veggies and cheese and a small container of natural Greek yoghurt with berries,” Mr Dick said.

“Make sure to pack lunch boxes with a bottle of frozen water, instead of sugary drinks such as cordials, sports drinks, fruit drinks and soft drinks.

“Keep in mind that school lunches usually sit for a few hours before being eaten. Dairy products, meats, eggs, and cooked pasta or rice should be kept cold until eaten.”

To ensure food is kept at a safe temperature until lunch break:

  • use insulated lunch boxes or cooler bags
  • keep a frozen drink or freezer brick inside the lunch box
  • if preparing lunches the night before, keep it in the fridge until leaving for school
  • encourage children to keep the lunch box in their schoolbag and to store it out of direct sunlight.

Any perishable food such as meat, poultry or egg sandwiches, should be thrown out if not eaten that day.

Alternatively, pack lunch options that do not need to be kept cool to stay safe, such as:

  • canned baked beans, meat or fish
  • whole (uncut) fruit and vegetables.

Make sure you wash and thoroughly dry your hands before handling food and encourage kids to always wash their hands before eating, Mr Dick said.

Got a great healthy lunch box idea? Then share it with other Queensland parents on Queensland Health’s Facebook page.

Last updated: 21 January 2016