Type of Lunch-box
To support your child's developing independence if you are purchasing a lunch-box, let your child choose one he/she likes. Often this is one that appeals because it has a picture on it e.g. of the Wiggles or Dora the Explorer. Test that your child can open it and shut it successfully without adult help before you buy it.
Recycled ice-cream containers with a lid can also make a suitable lunch-box.
With a non-washable felt-tip marker ask your child to draw a small picture or write some letters of his/her name (if able to). Stick on some stickers so it can be more easily spotted / identified amongst other children's lunch-boxes at the ECE service.
Number of Foods
If your child is staying for lunch only, include 4 items of food. This is usually enough for a young child to eat in one sitting and not too little that your child will still be hungry after eating.
If your child is staying for morning and afternoon tea then include one or two extra items of food for each.
Large portion sizes make it difficult for small hands to handle and small mouths to eat. Instead of cutting sandwiches into halves, cut into smaller finger or triangle or square shapes.
Reduce the Possibility of Choking
Children under 5 years and particularly under 3 years are very susceptible to choking on food.
Young children have small air and food passages and are learning how to bite, chew and grind food which is why you need to be careful about what foods you give. Until your child's second molar teeth come through which are needed to grind food successfully before swallowing, do not include foods that are a high choking risk. Hard vegetables and fruit such as apple and carrot, small hard foods like dried hard fruit and peanuts, foods with skins like sausages, and foods like grapes and corn chips are high risk.
If you alter the texture through cooking, grating or mashing then the risk is reduced. For example, cooked apple, peanut butter, grated carrot.
Include a piece of soft fruit. Some days it may be a standard banana, or kiwifruit. Try to vary this by sometimes including a container of fresh strawberries, melon, mandarin slices, or pineapple.
Youghurt is an easy food to include, but check that the youghurt container can be resealed. Lunch-boxes can be carried around or moved during the day, if not completely eaten when opened the rest of the yoghurt may spill over other food in the box making it messy/ sticky when your child next goes to eat from it.
Some popular choices include:
- Crackers and cheese slices
- Savoury muffin slit at the top with a slice of cheese or tomato
- Toasted cheese bread
- Container of cooked apple, apricot or pear slices
- Container of fresh macaroni cheese or other pasta
Allergies and Banned Foods
Check with your ECE service if any foods are banned due to children's allergies.
If peanuts are banned, there are many alternatives to peanut butter. Try Marmite, Vegemite, honey, and jam as spreads.
How do you know if your child is eating enough and what your child is eating?
Request that the food your child does not eat is left in his/ her lunch-box to take home so you know how much your child is eating.
If your child is not eating enough then ask how much time children are given to eat lunch and if you consider this to be too short then ask for your child to be given more time.
If a rolling lunch-time operates at your ECE service instead of a set time for everyone, then ask if your child could be reminded to stop playing and have his/her lunch.
A note about expectations for safety and supervision
Because it is important to reduce the risk of choking that children sit still when eating and are supervised, check with your ECE service that it makes sure that an adult is always sitting and supervising during kai/ food times including if it operates a rolling lunch-time.
A note about considerations for your child's long-term health
Giving your child healthy, more plant-based and less processed food to minimise the risk of diseases such as heart disease and various cancers is something to consider.
The World Health Organisation recommends limiting or not eating animal meat. Twenty-two experts from 10 countries reviewed more than 800 studies to reach their conclusions. They found that eating 50 grams of processed meat every day increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. That’s the equivalent of 1 hot dog. For eating red meat (such as lambs, pigs, and goats) there was evidence of increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer. Read more.
According to a 2014 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition the mortality rate for meat-eaters is almost 20% higher than for semi-vegetarians and non-animal eaters.