Creating positive attitudes to food with back to school lunches

packed lunch

The kids are back at school which means many of us will find ourselves back to making packed lunches again – I can’t say I have missed that job during lock-down….

It has, however, provided us with an opportunity to re-think how we do things.

In my experience as a mother and a nutritionist, I have found Satter’s Division of Responsibility of Feeding the most effective model in bringing up our children to be healthy, competent eaters who trust their own bodies.

This ultimately means that it is the parent’s responsibility to decide ‘what’ and ‘when’ and our children eat and is then up to them to decide ‘how much’ and/or ‘whether’ they eat.

With this in mind, I recommend that as parents, it is our job to make packed lunches for our children.  By doing so, we can model what a balanced diet looks like and provide the foundation for our children to successfully take care of themselves as they grow. Feeding ourselves well is imperative to our self care and if we give this responsibility to our children too soon, they may struggle later in life.

That doesn’t mean that we should ever force our children to eat or try new foods, quite the opposite.  We provide the structure and opportunity to eat a variety of foods, they then decide how much of it they wish to eat at any given time – without pressure!

Our goal is to raise competent eaters who, as adults, feel relaxed around food and able to listen to their own internal cues.


packed lunch ideas

With that said, as they get older they can absolutely help and I would encourage this.  It provides a perfect opportunity to model and you can get them involved in various tasks depending on their age.

So, for example, my 7 year old can get the lunch boxes and containers out ready for me on the counter.

My 10 year old can then get the grapes out of the fridge and slice them for my 7 year old to pop in containers.

I often give the boys the option of a cheese or ham sandwich so they get some choice.

I will also let them choose a ‘side’ such as some crackers or raisins.

As a family, we also plan our lunches and both boys write this on our blackboard. This also helps when we go shopping.

I am mindful not to let them make all of the decisions because whilst my eldest may be ready to create a balanced lunch, my 7 year old definitely isn’t so rather than have to say ‘no, that is all wrong’, I scaffold and model so that they have a structure.  Vygotsky would call this the zone of proximal development

my children are learning to master the skills required but they currently need more guidance and practice in order to put together a packed lunch independently.


By doing it with them. I can also model appropriate language.  I don’t ever say ‘you MUST have a piece of fresh fruit’, or ‘that is full of junk, you need more healthy options’.

Language such as this demonises perfectly good food and can lead to you having a battle on your hands.

Instead, over time, model what a balanced packed lunch should look like and they will learn.


Transfomational Nutrition Lunch box ideas

This brings me on to the age-old question of ‘what should a packed lunch include?’

I always say, stick to this simple structure:

  1. Main
  2. Fruit and veggies
  3. Sides


This should include protein, carbohydrate and fat.  So a sandwich, cheese and crackers or last night’s leftovers.  Our favorites are pasta, homemade pizza, fried rice and chicken.


1 – 2 fruits or veggies.  We love apples, grapes, carrot sticks, raw broccoli, and peppers etc.


1, 2 or 3 sides such as crisps or biscuits,  yogurt, cheese sticks, trail mix, granola bar.


kids packed lunch ideas

My last tip would be to let your child decide in which order they want to eat it.  Whilst you may not be there with them, never tell them ‘you must have your sandwich first and crisps last’.  That just attaches a moral value to the food.  Let them decide how they will eat it and also how much.  So don’t comment if they come home with food leftover.

They will stop when they have had enough and we must trust them to do so.

This is how we teach them to trust and love their bodies.