Lunchbox wars: why kids don't need Instagram-worthy food at school

Photo: Mediamate.com.au
Photo: Mediamate.com.au 

Thanks to social media, lunchbox art and design is now a 'thing'. Accounts featuring intricately themed lunchbox creations are on the rise and parents are feeling the pressure to conform.

However, nutritionists say this pressure is unnecessary, and a healthy lunchbox is in the contents and not the design.

"Social media is a visual marketplace, so lunchbox art is designed to be stunning," says nutritionist, Tracie Connor.

"Food art can be pretty and inspiring, but it can also be over the top. Ultimately, lunchboxes are about nutritious tasty foods that can be kept at a safe temperature to avoid spoiling."

Nutritionist Vicky Tsoleridis agrees. She says that lunchbox design can have detrimental effects for children and parents. Children come to expect elaborate lunches and parents feel pressure to provide them.

"Conditioning our children into believing that a sandwich cut into a star shape is fun is just unrealistic," she says. "It creates an image that food has to look perfect and fun to be eaten, but the real world is not like that."

Tsoleridis says that lunchbox designs may make parents feel guilty for not providing numerous interesting options. However, she notes that, for a child, too much choice can actually be confusing.

However, lunchbox design devotees may disagree. letsbentomama's Instagram account features pictures of lunchboxes that look both elaborate in design and preparation.

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Sandwiches sit in their compartmentalised box, fashioned into a variety of animals complete with vegetable noses, eyes and ears. Fruit and savoury snacks take on the form of monsters and shapes.

Over Christmas the lunchboxes were filled with delights such as celery Christmas trees, reindeer sandwiches and a turkey made from crackers, mini quiches, strawberries and carrots.

 

It’s going to be a long day today with school, band practice, violin lessons and a Christmas Show in the evening so I packed these snacks for the girls in the @seedandsproutco lunchbox. The Christmas tree is made with celery, corn, pomegranate seeds, cheese star, and the trunk is a @vtsmoke mini stick. The presents 🎁 are @chexmix! 🤣 The other container has star cookies, yogurt covered pretzels, a @cutiescitrus mandarin and @haribousa gummy bears. 🐻 And I can’t forget — the gingerbread girl is holding a @lunchbox_love note! 🎄 🎄 🎄 #letsbentomama #swapthestick #madewithlove #whatsinmylunchbox #healthy #healthykids #healthykidsfood #schoollunch #poweryourlunchbox #packedlunch #letsmakelunchfun #snack #snackbox #funfood #funwithfood #playwithyourfood #whatifeedmykid #bento #bentobox #bentokids #kidsbento #kawaiifood #momlife #instafood #christmastree #christmasbento #christmastheme

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Designs by lunchboxdad are much the same, although he favours movie or TV characters as his themes.

More recently he posted a Paddington bear lunchbox with Paddington formed from bread, apple, blueberries and banana. In the past, he's put together multiple Star Wars scenes - R2D2 and Stormtrooper sandwiches are just the beginning!

For Tsoleridis this may be a step too far.

"I'm a huge advocate for keeping it simple for children," she says. "As adults, we grab something to fill the hunger void, and we need to teach our children the same - choose something healthy to fill the void, regardless of whether it's appetising."

Both nutritionists say that a lunchbox should include healthy wholefood snacks such as fresh fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains, healthy fats and protein sources to provide energy, sustenance and a blood-sugar balance. 

Processed foods, or those with too much sugar and saturated fats should be avoided.

Tsoleridis suggests 1-2 portions of fruit such as nectarine, apple or mandarin, and 1-2 portions of vegetables such as carrot, cucumber or tomatoes. A small pot of hommous, low sugar yoghurt or cheese provide good energy sources.

Suggestions for wholemeal sandwich fillings include avocado and cheese, vegemite, cream cheese and cucumber, tomato and cheese, turkey and cheese or tuna and cucumber

Treats could be a biscuit, muffin, packet of popcorn, fruit strap, or mixed sultanas/chocolate drops/dried fruits. 

"Remember that children need food that is quick, easy and filling," says Tsoleridis. "They're so busy running around playing and exploring, that food and food design is the last thing on their minds."

It seems that most parents agree.

Liz, a mum to three, says, "My lunchbox preparation is to grab a piece of fruit from the fridge and a packaged snack from the pantry, then go online and order a sandwich from the canteen."

"Once a week the kids get to order something "fancy" like a meat pie or schnitzel sandwich."

When it comes time for your child to make their own lunches, then lunch box designs may well be their preference. Until then, don't let it stress you out.

As Connor so accurately says, "parenting can be hard enough at the best of times, you don't need to be a lunchbox artist too."