Trying to convince kids to eat healthily is a battle most Australian parents will be familiar with. At least, though, with meals like breakfast and dinner, you can oversee what is going into their mouths and make sure little Johnny isn't scrimping on his greens.
The school lunch, however, is a different story. How many parents have emptied school bags at the end of the day to find a soggy apple or squished banana at the bottom? Or, even worse, an untouched lunch box?
"We often talk about boomerang lunch boxes," accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, Natasha Murray, told The Huffington Post Australia.
"You pack it, it goes on trip to school, and comes back untouched. You want to try and avoid that as much as we can."
According to Murray, there are a number of reasons a child might skip their lunch, and it isn't necessarily because you've packed them something they don't like.
"I find with the younger kids and the really active kids -- especially if the school doesn’t have 10 minutes where they have to sit and eat -- kids will just want to go and play. To them, eating takes up too much time and it's boring.
"Or sometimes the little ones find it hard to get into what they have in their lunch box, My four-and-a-half year old still has difficulty opening up packets and needs help. But if they are new to the school, they might not feel comfortable asking the teacher just yet.
"Glad Wrap can also be really hard to unwrap sometimes, as well as things like oranges, which are difficult to peel.
"Sometimes it just might be what’s in the lunch box is different to what their friends have and they're embarrassed."
In terms of what should be in their lunch box (if they ever get around to opening it) nutritionist, health writer and presenter Michele Chevalley Hedge of A Healthy View says you can't go past a healthy sandwich. Where it gets interesting is what constitutes "healthy."
"You want to include a protein, a fat and a carb," Chevalley Hedge told HuffPost Australia. "Not just a healthy tomato sandwich or salad. They need three components.
"So something like chicken with avocado on a multi-grain roll would be ideal. But something like a butter sandwich or a salad sandwich is just not sustaining enough."
Both Chevalley Hedge and Murray are also big believers in re-purposing the previous night's dinner.
"Cook once, eat twice," Chevalley Hedge said. "If kids like the stir fry from the night before, put it in a wide mouth thermos with some extra rice. Parents are busy and time poor, and often the evening meal is the most thought-out meal of the day."
Murray also notes if there are more than just one set of left overs, it's a good opportunity to afford your children a choice in what they get to eat.
"I think, when you can, it's good to ask your child, 'what would you like in your lunch box?'," Murray said. "If you have leftovers, you might say 'would you like the rice or would you like the pasta?' Or, for fruit, 'we have apples and oranges and bananas -- which one would you like?' Of course you are making the ultimate decision, but it allows them to have some input as well."
Other recommended snacks include a slice of cheese with some crackers, vegetables (fresh or roasted from the night before) and homemade treats such as savoury muffins or bliss balls -- keeping in mind many schools have a nut-free policy.
"If you have time on the weekend, savoury muffins or frittatas are great," Murray said. "Plus, we know that kids involved in preparation of their own food are more likely to eat it."
And as for the no-nut rule? Chevalley Hedge says you can work around it.
"If you have a recipe for bliss balls that calls for a whole bunch of almonds, replace with seeds," Chevalley Hedge said. "Seeds are allowed at school. Almonds may not be, peanuts may not be, but seeds are."
Finally, Murray says a little imagination never goes astray.
"Cookie cutters can be used to make shapes out of sandwiches and fruits, or you can write your child little notes," Murray said. "A really cool thing you can do is you can use a toothpick to write on the skin of the banana or draw a little picture. By the time lunch comes around, it's started to go brown, so you can read it."
For drinks, water is obviously the best option, but there are different things you can do to make it more appetising.
Murray recommends freezing half a bottle the night before and adding fresh water in the morning.
"That way kids can enjoy cold water right from the get-go and they don't have to wait for the ice to defrost," Murray said. "Better yet, it doubles as a chill-a-brick and will keep the food cool so it's still nice for lunchtime."
For kids who find it difficult to drink plain water, Chevalley Hedge suggests giving them coconut water instead, or infusing some plain water with one of their favourite fruits.
"Coconut water is full of electrolytes, with zero added sugar, as opposed to a sports drink or vitamin water. Those drinks can contain something like seven teaspoons of hidden sugar," Chevalley Hedge said.
"Or if you prefer to give them plain or sparkling water, why not infuse it with a bit of lemon or lime or their favourite fruit? Not only will that help with the taste factor but will also give them an extra bit of vitamin C."Suggest a correction