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Lunchbox-gate: Our take on kids lunchboxes

What should you be packing in your child’s school lunchbox?

The debate about what makes a healthy lunchbox is not a new one. Many parents face a daily battle with the humble school lunchbox. Recently, Campbell Live has shone the spotlight on this very topic. The resulting debate is hardly surprising given the many messages parents receive about what they should and shouldn’t be packing in their child’s lunchbox.

Two of the Heart Foundation’s own dietitians, Dave Monro and Mafi Funaki-Tahifote, were invited by Campbell Live to give their take on what makes a healthy school lunch. 


Dave Monro, Dietitian and Food Industry Setting Manager 

Father of three children aged 2, 5 and 7, Dave is responsible for making the school lunches most mornings. As both a dietitian and dad, Dave’s approach takes three factors into account: healthy food, affordability and realism.

“We can pack all the healthy food in the world into these lunch boxes, but if our children aren’t going to eat it then we’ve failed to provide them lunch. It’s important to get the balance right” he says.  

Dave’s typical lunchbox features:

  • Cheese sandwich made up of two slices of multigrain bread and Edam cheese.

The Multigrain bread has slightly more fibre than white bread and the Edam cheese contains protein and calcium. Gradually switching to more grainy over time is a goal by getting the kids taste buds to adapt to it.

  • Fruit and vegetables – banana, apple and carrot sticks

When adding fruit and vegetables, choose what’s in season to keep it affordable. Shopping at markets can be a great way to get cheap produce.

  • A couple of biscuits as a treat

As parents it is important consider if a treat is appropriate or not, and to be realistic. The yoghurt could be the used as the treat item. 

  • Fruit yoghurt for added protein and calcium

Yoghurt contains some naturally occurring sugar in the form of lactose. Look to reduce added sugar in your child’s lunch. Yoghurt can be a bit messy so other options for more protein are a boiled egg or tuna. Hint: freeze your yoghurt so that it is still cold at morning tea time and it keeps the rest of the lunchbox cool.

If your child's school participates in the 'Fonterra Milk In Schools Programme', the milk they receive can be used to compliment what's aready in their lunchboxes.

Total cost of Dave’s lunchbox is less than $2.00

Sandwich              40c

Apple                    40c

Banana                 25c

Carrots                  25c

Yoghurt                 50c

Plain biscuits        15c


Mafi Funaki-Tahifote, Dietitian and Pacific Heartbeat Operations Manager

Mafi is a Tongan mother of five. In addition to working full-time in the Pacific Heartbeat team, she prepares lunch daily for her four primary- and secondary-aged children (5, 9, 12 and 14). Mafi brought along to the Campbell Live set examples of what makes up her children’s lunchboxes, which she prepares herself. The focus of Mafi’s conversation was on her 5 year old’s lunchbox.

“A healthy lunch is important but it needs to be affordable, easy to prepare and take into account what your children likes and how much he/she can eat.”

“It’s also important to note that lunch is only one part of what a child eats during the day. My five year old can only manage about three lunch items. She still comes home with one item not eaten and it’s a happy achievement for her if she finishes all her lunch. She would have more food after school, in addition to dinner.”

Mafi’s typical lunchbox features: 

  • A sandwich made up of two slices of wholemeal bread, slices of cucumber, tomatoes, grated carrots and Edam cheese.

The wholemeal bread has more fibre than white bread, the vegetables provide vitamins and minerals and the Edam cheese contains protein and calcium.

  • I use frozen slices of bread as they will thaw by lunchtime and also help keep the lunchbox cool.

The cucumber is thinly sliced to keep the sandwich to a manageable size for my five year old.

I changed from multigrain to wholemeal because my children complained about the grains of wheat that get stuck in their teeth.

I reduced from half a sandwich to a quarter to make sure that she eats the rest of her lunch i.e. yoghurt and fruit.

  • A piece of fruit – apple

Fruit adds vitamins, minerals and fibre. If I run out of fruit, I’ll chop up some carrot sticks as they’re always a cheaper vegetable to buy. Carrots are also sweeter in New Zealand compared to Tonga where I grew up.

  • Fruit yoghurt for added protein and calcium

If I notice that my children don’t eat their yoghurt or fruit, I’ll only add one item and they can have the other at home after school. If I give them treats, I’ll replace one of them with two plain biscuits or a healthier muesli bar or another home-made bakery item. To add variety and, depending on time, I’ll occasionally make them a wrap or sushi rather than a sandwich.

Total cost of Mafi’s lunchbox (for her 5 year old) is about $1.00

¼ Sandwich         30c

Apple                     25c (bought on special)

Yoghurt                35c (bought on special)

For Mafi’s four children, the total cost for their lunchboxes is about $4.90 a day.


The Heart Foundation thanks Campbell Live for the opportunity to share what we pack in our children's school lunchboxes.