Kevin Rudd won’t be the only person waking up with a looming sense of dread on Monday morning.  Every Monday, thousands of parents rouse from their sleep only to be gripped by exactly the same feeling. Today, Tomorrow, the Next Day, The Day After That, and The Day After That, we have to conquer the seemingly insurmountable challenge that is the school lunchbox.  And every day, we wonder whether or not we can win over our harshest critics.

Food has become so political these days and nothing is more political than the food you feed your children. There’s so much to think about – allergies and intolerances, nutrition, the obesity epidemic, additives and food chemicals, fair trade, food miles, organic versus non-organic, animal cruelty, religious beliefs, the environmental impact of the packaging and then just the sheer amount of food that gets wasted. Whatever happened to just packing your kids off with a vegemite sandwich and an apple every day for 13 years?

We had an information night at our school the other night and there were a lot of questions among the parents as to whether or not they are allowed to pack things like peanut butter sandwiches. So the whole lunchbox packing issues has become a bit of a hot potato – a gluten free, fat-free, cruelty-free, low-GI hot potato.

Then there’s the issue of what they will actually eat. These days schools and preschools expect you to offer a fully balanced meal to your child. Each lunchbox must contain protein, whole grain carbohydrates, fruit and vegies. Have you seen the size of the lunchboxes kids go off to school with these days? They’re broken down into six or seven different compartments so you can include all the food groups twice. I’m all for healthy eating but the problem is most of it just gets wasted. They don’t actually eat it. And to complicate matters further, lots of schools and pre-schools have jumped on the ‘nude food’ bandwagon, which means you can’t wrap or package the food. So by the time it comes home the carrot sticks are dried out, the rice crackers have gone soft and the strawberries have turned to slush. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending half the morning preparing all this good, healthy, expensive food, only to empty almost the entire contents of the lunchbox into the bin when it comes home. So when people talk about food miles, what they really mean is the fact that food travels the 2 metres from the crisper to the bin, via the schoolyard and back.

So I’ve been looking for ideas on how to pack good lunchboxes and I found a magazine article that suggested things like vegetable muffins, home-made chicken schnitzel, home made sushi squares and mini quiches and frittatas. So not only are you supposed to pack an exciting fresh healthy lunchbox, you’re expected to spend all weekend cooking as well! Forget it.

Of course there’s always the trusty canteen. Every day now Birdy asks if she can buy something from the canteen. Our canteen is reasonably healthy but it’s a pretty expensive way to feed your kids, compared to packing a cheese sandwich. But then your child tells you that everybody else is buying from the canteen and she is the only poor neglected waif who doesn’t get any money to buy something from the canteen. But I said to my husband that if we let her start buying things from the canteen in kindy then she’ll expect it for the next 6 years and then the next one will expect it and before you know it you’re spending $10 on the kids’ lunches. So I think we’ll save that for a Year 6 privilege.

But in the meantime, another bunch of grapes travels from the fridge to the bin via Birdy’s lunchbox. I’m hoping that the reason the lunchbox keeps coming home full is just the sheer excitement of being at school for the first time, but if it doesn’t get better, I think I’ll have to revert to the classic lunch of the 1980s – the Devon and tomato sauce sandwich. After a couple of days of that she’ll realise that carrot sticks and sultanas aren’t so bad after all.

How do your kids go with their school lunches? Do you have any tips that have helped to get your child eating well? Love to hear any suggestions you have for healthy lunch or snack ideas.

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