Tuesday 9 December 2014

Lunchboxes - a reflection on a year of vegetarian school lunches

The Australian school year is almost over.  It seems like a good opportunity to reflect on Sylvia's lunchboxes over the year.  I have occasionally shared them but here is an overview.  Above is her trusty Pepper Pig lunchbox looking less shabby at the start of the year.   Below is her drink bottle.  They have accompanied Sylvia to school every day of her Prep year.  (That is the first year of primary school here.)

Sylvia's themos water bottle
My primary school lunches:
We develop our expectations of food from our own experiences so let me tell you about my own primary school lunches.  I usually had sandwiches - german sausage and tomato sauce, vegemite and cheese or vegemite and walnuts - and some fruit and cake.  All wrapped in waxed paper.  (I really hated the waxed paper.)  Occasionally we put in lunch orders to a nearby milk bar for pies or pasties, chips (crisps) and flavoured milk.  It was a treat.  We also had cordial in our water bottles in the first few weeks of each year, which I loved.

Crackers, cheese, cherry tomatoes, cooked potato, choc chip cookie, peach slices
What lunches are available for Sylvia at her school?
Like my school Sylvia does not have a canteen at school.  The only exception is that occasional canteen run by the Junior School Council, which sells popcorn, sultanas, zooper doopers and other healthyish) snacks.  However unlike my school, there is no lunch order service every day.  Lunch orders are only available on a few days.  They came from a nearby cafe offering sandwiches, sushi, dim sims, baked potatoes, spaghetti, fruit, flavoured milk and juice.

Cheeseymite scroll, carrots, porridgies, pear slices
The lunchbox
When I bought the Peppa Pig lunchbox I found that our little tubs fitted neatly inside it.  It has been a good system.  Though there are mornings when they are hard to find.  I would like a bento box but never found one I liked and the tubs give me good flexibility.

Sushi, soy crisps, walnuts, Herman the German apple cake, apple slices
The labels
I started writing Sylvia's name using permanent markers but they washed off quickly.  On my sister's recommendation (thanks Susie) I bought some name tags from Bright Star.  They have been fantastic.  They stay on for ages and we still have lots of them.

Cheeseymite scroll, carrots, gingerbread stars, apple slices
What did Sylvia eat?
From the start I would give Sylvia some protein, some vegetable, some sweet home baking, some fruit.  The lunchbox below was quite unusual because I didn't have fresh fruit and used dried fruit instead.  She always has water in her water bottle.

Sushi, carrots, roasted chickpeas, porridgies, dried apricots and dates
At first Sylvia refused to eat sandwiches.  Sandwiches seem such standard lunchbox fare so I pushed her to eat them.  After all we regularly have home made bread in the house.  I remember the first day I put a sandwich in her lunchbox.  She screamed in outrage.  However she has come around.

Cheese and vegemite sandwiches (on seeded sourdough), carrots, chocolate cupcakes, pear slices
Sylvia's regular savoury foods:
  • Crackers and hummus
  • Crackers and cheese
  • Vegemite and cheese sandwiches
  • Sushi (seasoned rice and nori but no filling)
  • Cheeseymite scrolls from Bakers Delight (every Tuesday)
  • Dried chickpeas and tofu bacon
  • Cheese stars (like these)
  • Carrots or cherry tomatoes

Rice crackers, hummus, carrots, banana oat pancakes, apple slices
Sweet Food

Vita wheat crackers, roasted chickpeas, coconut bacon, chocolate iced doughnut, apple slices
Keep it plain
I sometimes feel guilty that her lunches are so boring and often the same but Sylvia likes to eat the same old thing.  (NB the photos in this post were taken when I thought there was something interesting to record.)  However I also see lots of recommendations for school lunches that seem incredibly fussy.  I would always put together lunch in the morning and some days it has been a mad rush.  I just don't have time for such fancy food.  Not to mention that it is often messy and hard to pack.

Cheese stars, carrots, almond choc chip cookie, apple slices
Portion size
When I first started to think about school lunches, I packed a lot more than I do now.  Even so, Sylvia often does not eat all her lunch at school.  We have a rule on this.  If she doesn't eat her lunch, she eats the leftovers before any other snacks after school.  Usually she does eat any leftovers before dinner.

Tortilla, hummus, cherry tomatoes, glo bar, pear slices
Nut policy
Sylvia's school does not have a no nuts policy.  For months I mistakenly thought there was and I have more recently spoken to other parents who were under the impression there was.  Perhaps it is a hangover of the strict food policies at child care.  I have been told that it is impossible to enforce a no nuts policy because children bring their own lunches.  However there is a policy of no sharing food among kids.

Cheese and vegemite sandwiches, cherry tomatoes, iced cupcake, apricots
I am not a nutritionist and do not claim to have made perfect lunches but I think they are ok, though probably too many sweet treats.  However I feel it is not too bad compared to the child care lunches she was served.  I would get annoyed at the lack of protein or the processed meat patties she got there.  It would be good to get more vegies into Sylvia's lunchbox.  She is slowly starting to eat more of our meals so that might give me more options next year.

Cheese and vegemite sandwiches, cherry tomatoes, chocolate mince tart, peach slices

What did you have for school lunches when you were at school?  What do your kids enjoy now or what would you like to pack for kids lunchboxes?


  1. You've done a nice job, and it is hard to make school lunches every morning! I am very lucky that my toddler's daycare gives 2 nutritious snacks and a lunch every day and everything they serve is vegetarian. But sooner or later I'll have to make school lunch as well!

    When I was in school, we had morning school (7 AM to 1 PM) and took a tiffin box for the 10:30 AM recess. It had Indian breakfast foods like upma or paratha, or veggie patties, or sandwiches.

    1. Thanks Nupur - I liked some of the food offered by the child care and they probably did a bit less cake than me but I had menus given with the meat meals and the veg alternatives and they really didn't seem great alternatives. Can't imagine starting school at 7am but I guess that is partly because of the heat? Am sure you will make some interesting school lunches when they come around!

  2. How awesome! You've given me some great ideas for C :)

  3. It sounds like we went to very similar schools. We didn't have a canteen either but there was a bakery up the road where if you were lucky, you could order a pie and a custard tart. You do great lunch boxes for Sylvia - she gets great variety and it's all packaged up so well xx

    1. Thanks charlie - I don't think you could have called the milk bars bakeries though as they were in the country I don't know where they got their pastries - maybe they made them - I don't think we have a bakery in our town - must ask my mum! I think I would go stir crazy if I gave sylvia the same thing every day though once a week is fine!

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks Veganopoulous (yay for being able to comment!)

  5. Ahhhh the post I have been waiting for :) I love all of these lunch boxes! Thanks for sharing and the great ideas. I also often feel like I give Sylvia too many sweet things, but I do make an effort to make them healthy and I guess it reflects the household she lives in!

    1. Thanks Kate - I try to make healthier sweet food too but I sometimes feel we all could eat a bit less sweet food - but I guess I see food as far more than fuel for our bodies - so much emotions around it!

  6. I think these ideas are wonderful, so varied and healthy. You say at one point you are worried they are all the same, but they are fantastic! It was always sandwiches fruit and a biscuit for me, so these look wonderful. I'm so impressed with Sylvias tastes too. I'd be happy with any of those for lunch

    1. Thanks Katie - I always loved watching the kids in the canteen in British shows like Grange Hill - but sounds like you took your lunch. I could probably eat more lunches like sylvia and do ok but I do love soup and leftovers too.

  7. I would love to find these boxes for one of my adult lunches! I think you've hit on a great routine and suspect many a child is jealous of Sylvia's variety of food - I think little bits of little things is a great approach for children. The balance of protein / savoury / veg / fruit / sweet seems really nice too. It is also a year of lunch making for you, so - well done!

    It is interesting to hear about the no canteen as my own quite small primary school had one (albeit run by mothers). Lunch orders were a real treat. The rest of the time vegemite sandwiches or salad sandwiches were common fare, along with fruit and some sweet thing - home made in the early years, muesli bar or similar when I got older and my Mum decided they were easier to buy.

    1. Thanks Kari - I think they would be too small for adult lunches esp for active adults such as yourself but easy to bulk up! I think having the boxes that I feel I need to fill with at least three kinds of food is helpful (not that I don't forget on occasion to do one).

      I think our lunches were often home made sweet stuff but I do remember getting into muesli bars perhaps at school. It is great that the mums at your school did the canteen - I think it is interesting that the older kids occasionally run a canteen at sylvia's school

  8. Sylvia's lunches look great! I'd be happy to eat any of those. I remember getting ham and tomato sandwiches every day. I hated them as the tomato would get so wet and make the white bread sorry. Ugh!

    1. Thanks Lorraine - I am very picky about what goes into sandwiches that need to sit about for any time - I hated tomato when small but the idea of making the sandwich soggy would horrify me - and I remember how jam would crystalise in the sandwiches so that never went in school sandwiches either (perhaps this is why I don't do peanut butter and jam sandwiches)

  9. I've noticed that you've been using those little containers like a bento box in the insulated lunchbox. It's a fantastic idea, and I wish I'd thought of it when I was making school lunches. Our containers often went missing too! When I was a kid I ALWAYS had either vegemite and cheese sandwiches or peanut butter and honey sandwiches...until we had a trip to the UK and discovered Scotch eggs. Then Mum used to make them for my lunch and I thought I was very international. :-)

    1. Thanks Linda - the little containers are great for avoiding sandwich wrap and also because like today when we went out after school she could take a tub or two that had leftovers to snack on and leave the lunchbox and empty tubs at home.

      And you reminded me that I had peanut butter sandwiches though I never have them to take anywhere now as I think the peanut butter goes a bit odd if not fresh. I have often wished to love eggs because they seem such a great portable snack and sandwich filling but couldn't stand them. But Scotch eggs sounds like a very fancy school lunch.

  10. I love the colourful containers. I grew up with something similar, although perhaps perhaps tupperware was mainstream. For a better part of a decade, I think I had pizza every day for lunch.

  11. I hope you realise what an awesome mom you are! I used to really like the lunches my mom packed me... but they were super unhealthy. They always had chocolate bars and chips in them. And gross lunch meat. Ah well - I grew out of it at least ;p


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