The most common question that has come up in our DMs and in our VIP Facebook group over the last two months is "What on earth do I send to school for my kid who is a fussy eater?"

That's why I reached out to Fern Rodrigues, an Associate Nutritionist of the Nutrition Society of Australia who holds a Bachelors degree in Food & Nutrition  and specialises in avoidant eating (aka fussy eating) in children, for her top 5 tips for you to make lunchboxes with confidence. Here's what Fern had to say:

The start of school year is always a sensitive time for parents AND children. So many things to prepare and get used to. So many worries…

One specific worry that I keep hearing from parents is related to the lunchbox. Parents want to make sure they send their kid(s) off to school with the bestest (better than best!) lunchbox: Flashy colours, featuring their child’s favourite cartoon character, sturdy, visible name-tag or label, resistant to shocks and to the dishwasher, easy to clean, keeps food cool/warm, easy to open/close, no leaks, environmentally friendly, affordable etc etc etc… You’re lucky you’re here as this is the website for you!

But the worries with lunchbox don’t stop there. What goes in it causes equal turmoil in a mum’s head. There’s the fear that their child(ren) won’t eat it, that the food they WILL EAT isn’t healthy enough, that the food isn’t “nude” enough as per the school’s rules, that the other children will pick on yours because of whatever the food you send, that the other mothers will judge you for your child’s non-Instagramable lunchbox…

I hear you and I would like to contribute some advice. So, here are my top 5 recommendations for happier mornings at your home

1. YOU are responsible for what your child eats

Never feel intimidated by anybody else’s comments or unsolicited advice on your child’s lunchbox. You are responsible for feeding your kid and no one else has the right to tell you what should or shouldn’t go in their lunchbox.

If you don’t feel confident enough that the food you want to send is appropriate, please consider one of these alternatives (a) talk to a nutrition professional like a nutritionist or a dietitian, (b) check government guidelines (see references below)1, and (c) follow on social media ONLY people who have qualification and regularly disclose their information sources, like the references below.

2. Lunchbox food = Comforting food

It means sending in your little one’s lunchbox ONLY foods that they like.

In the beginning of the year, after children have spent a long period at home, with their family, it can be hard to adapt back into school routine, even for older ones. And for some, it will be their first time to experience this adaptation!

Additionally, during the school day, many things can happen. They may very well spend a wonderful day, having fun, but also, sometimes there can be upsetting moments like getting hurt from a fall-over or by feeling homesick.

So, when your little one is feeling not their best, opening the lunchbox and finding their favourite fruit or sandwich or a wrap that brings lovely memories of both of you making it together or popcorn that reminds them of the last time you went together to the movies... it can serve as a bit of comfort, and be just enough to cheer them up.

Now, imagine the contrary: they open the lunchbox to only find confronting foods. How do you think they will handle their feelings? You know that last straw that broke the camel's back...?

I always advise parents to send in their kids' lunchbox ONLY foods they already like and are familiar with. It is best to introduce new foods or repeat foods that are not yet loved only when having meals at home, when you can jump in and give the comfort they might need.

Plus, there will be less waste and frustration for all.

3. Follow allergens rules, but if you absolutely need to break them, seek an agreement

Even though there isn’t evidence that banning allergens from the school setting makes the environment safer for allergic children2, you don’t have to fight this or any other rule your school might have if you don’t have to. By all means, follow them fully.

Problem is that some parents of avoidant eaters (aka fussy eaters), may find themselves in a tricky situation where their child’s very short list of accepted foods contains most of the allergens that school won’t accept.

If that’s your case, please, do not restrict you child’s options even further. I’d suggest you to go and discuss your situation with the school. Together, find ways you can go around that. You could, for example, agree on you sending “eggs”, which your child loves, only on days the egg-allergic child doesn’t attend (if we’re talking about preschool or even childcare). Or you could even find out that this year, the school hasn’t got any peanut allergic child attending, so your boy’s only accepted protein option, peanut butter sandwich, is ok to be back on the menu.

Children’s safety is paramount and rules to safeguard that must be abided by. But there also must be reasonable flexibility to support a child who struggles to feed well when it is not going to put others at risk. Everything must be put into context and, at times, opening exceptions is less complicated than you think.

4. Make sure your child can handle their lunchbox and drink bottle

I’m also an educator in childcare and see children who are about to begin primary school and can’t open and close nor care for their lunchboxes and drink bottles by themselves.

The best way to avoid this problem is training. The way I suggest you do this is as follows:

Make a pre-selection of lunchboxes you’d be willing to buy. Take your child with you to the shop or to the electronic screen, if you’re buying it online, so they can have a say on the final pick. If you’re buying from the shelf, let your child have a go with it at the shop to test how tricky opening and closing it can be. It shocks me how hard to use some clips and zippers are!

Once at home with the lunchbox, have a few days of practice. This way, your child will get familiar with handling it and you will get familiar with packing and cleaning it.

You can also instruct them on how to care for it, avoiding unnecessary impact (aka throwing, chucking etc), closing internal containers so yoghurt stays in the container and doesn’t mingle with all the other items in the lunchbox and greets you with a ‘vomit waft’ when it’s brought back home.

All of the above for choosing a drink bottle.

5. Give more responsibility to your child

Involve your child(ren) in planning and preparing for the next day or week’s lunchbox. Also let them help packing it and cleaning it. Like I mentioned above.

This is beneficial in several ways because it is a ‘controlled’ power you hand over to your child that they do appreciate very much. This can increase their willingness to eat the food you send, as they feel acknowledged, but also accountable for their food choices.

This also teaches them self-help skills that will have an important impact in their general health throughout life.

As you can see, I’m a nutritionist who has lunchbox recommendations other than “healthy” snacks. And it’s very likely that you already have that sorted anyway. I’m more interested in helping you support your child to become a proficient eater, with a love for all foods, less dependent on you or on me.

I will make a specific lunchbox menu plan for you, if that is absolutely what you need. But one that will actually work for you, meaning it won’t add more work in your already busy day, and help you feed your child better than you would without it. But that’s a topic for another day.

I wish you and your child(ren) all the best for this school year. 😊

Fern Rodrigues

Associate Nutritionist of the Nutrition Society of Australia, Bch in Food & Nutrition, Food Technician, Early Childhood educator, recipe developer, cook and food taster.

She specialises in avoidant eating (aka fussy eating) in children, from one to 12 years old, and helps parents and educators take control of their children's nutrition with confidence.


  1. Australian Dietary Guidelines
  2. New allergy guidelines to protect children from severe allergic reactions in schools and childcare
January 26, 2023 — Michelle Leach

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