23 May 2022

WATCH: 10 back to school lunch box ideas for Waterford families

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 for kids, teens and parents alike. Back to school marks a fresh beginning and structure for the forthcoming 9-10 months of your family’s year, so take this time as an opportunity to encourage healthy lifestyle routines and habits from the get-go.

“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 a nutritionally balanced lunch and snacks. Typically, a packed school lunch should contain all of the major food groups,” says Louise Reynolds, a dietitian with the Irish Nutrition Dietetic Institute (INDI).


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

Food writer and mum of three young children, Lilly Higgins, says: “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. I love to get my 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 so don’t be afraid to let them experiment!

The Department of Health’s Healthy Eating Guidelines recommend three 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, five 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, 125g 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.

Lilly’s lunchbox ideas

1. Strawberry milk or banana smoothie: just blend fruit with milk and some natural yogurt together, if the fruit is a bit sour add a teaspoon of honey. Freeze the smoothie overnight and place it in the lunchbox. It will have defrosted by lunchtime.

2. Cheese and fruit kebabs - cocktail sticks with grapes, pineapple, cubes of cheddar, cherry tomatoes.

3. Toasted almonds with cubes of cheese (toast almonds with a little olive oil, sea salt and finely chopped rosemary).

4. Pizza scrolls or mini pizzas: Roll wholemeal pizza dough, spread with tomato sauce and some chopped vegetables, top with grated cheese - roll up like a Swiss roll. Slice into individual scrolls and bake these in the oven on a baking tray or do not roll up and just make small mini pizza. These can be served cold in the lunchbox.

5. Feta and vegetable muffins - a great sandwich alternative - recipe available online

6. Mix cream cheese with cinnamon to flavour and spread on mini bagels with sultanas.

7. Mini quiches in muffin tins with cheese, salmon or vegetables.

8. Mini mozzarella balls with cherry tomatoes and basil leaves.

9. Savoury yogurt dips: stir through some tahini and lemon juice, or a little dill and garlic with cucumber to make a simple tzatziki or add some grated beetroot and a pinch of cumin for a bright pink dip for vegetables. Serve with vegetable crudités in the lunchbox. Peppers, celery and carrots all work well.

10. Grated cheddar, mayonnaise, tuna and sweetcorn in a wholemeal pitta bread.

The National Dairy Council is now taking registrations for the School Milk Scheme for the 2018/2019 school year. Drinking a carton of school milk each day is a convenient and affordable way to help children meet their calcium needs. The National Dairy Council supports schools by supplying a free fridge to store school milk, ensuring that this fresh drink is enjoyed at its best at all times. For further information is available here

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