back to school lunch

Back to School, Do’s and Don’ts of Lunch Boxes

Make the back to school grind a little easier with healthy lunchbox advice, tips and ideas from Caroline O’Donovan, Nutritionist with the National Dairy Council.


Good nutrition is not only essential for your child’s growth and development but is also important in keeping them adequately fuelled for the long school day. Whether starting school for the first time, progressing from primary to secondary school or returning to a familiar routine; this transition is a busy time of year for kids, teens and parents alike. Back to school marks a fresh beginning and structure for the next 9 or 10 months of your family’s year, so take this time as an opportunity to encourage healthy lifestyle routines and habits from the get-go.

back to school lunch

Don’t forget that a school lunch is one of your child’s three meals a day, so it’s important to ensure they are getting nutritionally balanced lunches and snacks. Typically, a packed school lunch should contain all of the major food groups; consider:

  1. 1 portion of starchy carbohydrate (e.g. wholegrain breads, pittas and wraps, brown rice/pasta)
  2. 1 portion of meat or meat alternative (e.g. chicken, fish, egg, pulses)
  3. 1 portion of dairy (e.g. yogurt, cheese)
  4. 1(+) portion of vegetable (e.g. carrot sticks, peppers, sweetcorn, lettuce, onion)
  5. 1(+) portion of fruit (e.g. apple, orange, banana, pear, kiwi)
  6. A drink of water and/or milk


The Do’s and Don’ts


ü  Get the kids involved – learning about food and nutrition are important life skills and should be encouraged from an early age. Children are more likely to be interested in their lunches if they have helped to choose and prepare them. Don’t be afraid to let them experiment!

ü  Try new foods – trying new foods from an early age plays a huge role in a child’s willingness and acceptance of different foods. Children’s food preferences evolve as their palates mature, so continuously encouraging them to try new and different foods is a crucial step in their development of good eating habits.

ü  Shake things up – variety is key, not only does variation in the diet provide nutritional benefits, but reduces boredom and lack of interest in food. This is particularly important for children and teenagers, as they can be prone to becoming fussy eaters.

ü  Tailor lunches to the time of year – for example, a flask of soup with brown bread during the cold, winter months or pasta salad during spring and summer.

ü  Make it look appetising – it is worth spending that extra few minutes on presentation, especially for younger children. Aim for a variety of shapes, colours and textures in the lunchbox. The more pleasing a packed lunch looks; the more likely kids are to eat and enjoy it. It may be worth investing in colourful, easy-open Tupperware, lunchboxes and thermos flasks to liven up the school lunchtime.

ü  Be prepared and organised – preparation in advance will not only save you time, but will reduce the chances of opting for last minute ready-made lunches or convenience foods which can be high in sugar, fat and salt.



×       Don’t leave it to the last minute – lack of time may increase the chance of filling lunchboxes with unhealthy, convenience foods.

×       Don’t repeat the same lunches over and over – while it’s a good idea to establish a number of reliable lunches that work, try not to overdo it. Mixing it up will increase the variety of nutrients provided.

×       Don’t forget about portion size – this should be specifically tailored to your child/teens age, size and activity levels. Younger children will generally need smaller portions than older or more active children.

×       Don’t forget about hydration – research suggests dehydration can lead to reduced concentration and performance in children. Water and milk are two excellent tooth-friendly choices; try to avoid sugary drinks.

×       Don’t forget about breakfast – it’s no myth that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’. Break the overnight fast and set the school goers up with a bowl of milky porridge or mixed berries with yogurt and granola. It can be a long wait until small break, so opt for a breakfast that will fill and fuel!


Did you know?

The Department of Health’s Healthy Eating Guidelines recommend 3 servings from the ‘milk, yogurt and cheese’ food group each day as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Between the ages of 9-18 years, 5 servings per day are recommended due to the increased calcium requirements at this life stage. Examples of one serving include a 200ml glass of milk, 125ml yogurt and 25g (matchbox size piece) cheddar cheese.

Calcium is recognised for its important role in normal bone growth and development; with childhood and the adolescent years particularly important for forming healthy bones. However, you may not realise that there is more to milk and dairy than calcium, with one glass of milk also providing us with protein, potassium, phosphorus, iodine, vitamin B2 and vitamin B12 – each playing a variety of important roles for our health.

Why not check if your child’s school is registered with the School Milk Scheme? This is a convenient and affordable way to help your child meet their recommended intake from the ‘milk, yogurt and cheese’ food group.

Lunchbox ideas

Sandwich fillers:
– Avocado, crunchy peppers and cheddar
– Tuna and sweetcorn, spinach leaves and mayonnaise
– Chicken, mixed salad and tomato relish
– Turkey, grated cheddar and tomato


Sandwich alternatives:
– Pesto pasta salad with chicken and peppers
– Mild spiced couscous with roasted veg and chickpeas
– Brown rice salad with sliced hardboiled egg, avocado and spring onion
– Homemade soup and brown bread


– Carrot and red pepper sticks with hummus
– Cubed cheddar cheese with grapes
– Fruit salad with yogurt and seeds
– Fresh fruit smoothie made with milk or yogurt


Alternative Sweet Treats:
– Homemade flapjacks
– Homemade banana bread
– Mixed unsalted nuts
– Mini box of raisins
– 2-3 dried apricots



The National Dairy Council has produced ‘Nutrition & You’ booklets for Children and Teenagers, which are endorsed by the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (INDI). These booklets provide tailored information across a variety of topics such as: healthy eating; keeping active; body weight; lunchbox tips; bone and dental health. These are available download for free – enquiries to


The NDC has also developed educational initiatives to help primary school children and teenagers learn about healthy eating, keeping active and the nutritional importance of dairy foods – ask about the Moo Crew for primary schools (; and the HealthFest event for secondary schools (

Your baby benefits from what you eat – World Breastfeeding Week

“mums struggle to consume sufficient nutrients to ensure both they and their baby are properly nourished at this crucial time of life”

Breastfeeding mothers are being reminded of the importance of maintaining their mineral levels to ensure their babies get the best possible start in life.

World Breastfeeding Week is upon us and the World Health Organisation recommends that babies receive breast milk only for the first six months of their life. The WHO bases this on research which shows that adolescents and adults who were breastfed as babies are less likely to be obese or have type-II diabetes, and are more likely to perform well in intelligence tests.

The average nursing mother produces around 750ml of breast milk per day, and needs to consume more calories than normal in order to produce an adequate milk supply. Yet some mums struggle to consume sufficient nutrients to ensure both they and their baby are properly nourished at this crucial time of life because many foods now have reduced nutritional value due to modern intensive farming methods.

In particular, there are far fewer minerals and trace elements in food compared to just 30 years ago, and these are vital for the cells in your body to be able to make proper use of other key nutrients such as vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

Cellnutrition Head of Science Roger Meacock explained: “Everyone knows that breast milk is best for babies, but maintaining healthy mineral levels does more than just make sure your breast milk contains all the nutrients your baby needs.”

It is estimated that as many as 80% of the population suffers from a mineral deficiency of some sort. Signs of a mineral deficiency can include: dehydration, food cravings, muscle cramps, fatigue, mood swings,depression, an inability to concentrate, anaemia, lowered immune function, dizziness, headaches, and gastrointestinal problems.

cellnutrition Quinton IsotonicCellnutrition Quinton gently replenishes the minerals and trace elements missing from your system. It is the world’s only 100% natural and bioavailable nutritional supplement to nourish your cells with 78 minerals and trace elements in the precise proportions they require to be strong and healthy.

Meacock adds: “There are other benefits for your baby because the health of your microbiome, the good bacteria in and on your body which supports your immune system and overall health, will be boosted too.

Mothers pass this on to their baby in the womb, during natural childbirth and afterwards during breastfeeding. So by maintaining your mineral levelsthrough and beyond pregnancy when you breastfeed you are building the best foundation for your baby’s health ready for the rest of their life.”

Breastfeeding mothers benefit from having fully nourished cells to help maintain energy levels, support immune system function and assist during times of stress, fatigue, and lowered concentration levels. Newborn babies benefit from having the very best start in life which goes beyond simple nutrition.

When the nutrients we need are hard to come by in our food, Cellnutrition Quinton provides a natural support for breastfeeding mothers. Beingcompletely organic, it is easily absorbed by the body so you can be confident both mother and baby have all the minerals they need to thrive.

Breastfeeding is such an important stage in a baby’s life that we would encourage any mothers who are concerned that they might be suffering from a mineral deficiency to contact Cellnutrition and find out how taking a complete mineral supplement which is 100% natural and bioavailable can support you and your baby’s health.”

Among the minerals found in Quinton are calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, chloride, and sulphur, while the trace elements include iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc, and selenium. Quinton is unique because it provides these nutrients in perfect balance with each other and your body – ensuring that your body has the minerals and trace elements it needs when it needs them.