Healthy kids are focused kids

Nutritious lunch boxes are a vital component of improving concentration throughout the school day

Kids are busier than ever spending almost eight hours a day at school, interacting with advancing technological devices, dealing with the increasing pressures of VCE/VCAL and participating in after-school activities. Therefore it is essential that they are fuelled with nutritious foods to help maintain their concentration well into the afternoon, and a healthy lunchbox will provide just that.

However, no matter how healthy your child’s lunch box is, it won’t provide any nutritional value if it doesn’t get eaten! Choosing a School Victoria spoke to Dr Joanna McMillan for some helpful tips on what to pack to ensure your child returns home with an empty lunchbox and stays focused at school.

An education
Healthy habits are formed throughout childhood and adolescence. If unhealthy habits are established at an early age, they are more likely to be carried forward throughout adult life and can lead to serious health problems. It is therefore vital that parents and schools teach children the importance of a healthy lifestyle and how to live one.

According to the 2011-13 Australian Health Survey (AHS), 25.1% of children aged 2-17 years were overweight or obese. This was an increase of 24.7% since 2007-08.
It can be challenging trying to teach young children about health and getting them to eat nutritious foods. Dr Joanna suggests getting them involved in the process is the best way to lead by example and teach them responsibility for eating well. This is especially true for high school, says Dr Joanna, as children of this age should not be ‘spoon fed’ and ought to prepare their own lunches.

Communication is also the key here. Ask children why things weren’t eaten and find out what it is they enjoy. Give elements of choice as this will make them feel as though they have some decision-making power.

Sources: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011-13 Australian Health Survey (AHS).

The lunchbox
Just like adults, children experience a lull in energy around the midday to three o’clock mark. As their glycogen levels drop, on come the yawns and lack of concentration in the classroom. So it is important to pack a lunch box that will boost energy and keep children fuelled to the end of the day. Dr Joanna breaks down the ultimate lunch box into easy components.

The main event: Choose a low-GI carbohydrate-based option, as the slow release of energy from low-GI foods will keep them feeling fuller for longer, as well as fuelling their brains throughout the afternoon. “Keep it simple,” says Dr Joanna, the key component of a lunch box should incorporate a slow release carbohydrate with some form of protein. Great options include wholegrain sandwiches, wraps, brown rice salads or buckwheat pastas. “You don’t have to get fancy with lunches; a good-quality cheese in a wholegrain sandwich can be good,” she says.

Protein: Foods rich in protein provide energy for exercise as they are packed with amino acids for growth and development. “Think outside the square and try adding foods that are also rich in omega 3 fats,” says Dr Joanna. Tinned salmon or tuna are great and easy-to-add options that can be enjoyed as part of the ‘main event’ or on their own.
Dairy: Add a dairy component or dairy alternative with added calcium, as children require high levels of this mineral to help build strong, healthy bones. Babybel mini cheeses or chunks of cheese with an apple are always winners, or for the hot summer days try adding a frozen yoghurt drink.

Fresh Fruit and Vegies: According to the National Health and Medical research Council (NHMRC) guidelines in 2003, children should be consuming 1-2 serves of fresh fruit and 3-5 serves of vegetables every day. A serve of fruit was defined as one medium piece or two small pieces of fruit. A half cup of cooked vegetables or one cup of salad vegies is considered a serve of vegies. Put vegetables separately as children tend to prefer fresh, cut-up vegies. Try adding cut-up carrot and celery with avocado or tahini.

Avoid adding ‘treats’ to your children’s lunch boxes as you are sure to find that these are what get eaten while the foods packed full of nutrients are left behind. Instead, opt for a delicious piece of fruit that is nutrient rich, provides low-GI carbs and fibre without too many kilojoules. Fruits are sources of essential nutrients and vitamins including potassium, fibre, vitamin C and folate.

H2O: Finally, ensure your child has a water bottle to keep them hydrated and avoid sugary juices and soft drinks.

The Canteen
The canteen is often seen as a confusing place for parents where good habits can easily come undone. Looking at the menu does not always tell you much about the quality and nutritional value. The best option here is to simply ask if you are unsure about certain foods and want to know more.

Dr Joanna McMillan
Dr Joanna McMillan is a highly regarded and much loved health professional. With over 20 years of experience in the health and fitness industry, a Bachelor Degree in Science with First Class Honours in Nutrition and Dietetics, and a PhD. from The University of Sydney, Dr Joanna has become a familiar face throughout the media, promoting a healthy lifestyle.
Today she is the Vice-President of the Australian lifestyle Medicine Association (ALMA), a member of the Dietitians Association of Australia and The Nutrition Society, as well as the Ambassador for the Skin & Cancer Foundation and Diabetes Australia.
Currently, Dr Joanna is launching her new Get Lean app and website that will provide education on how to lead a healthy lifestyle and include inspiring recipes. The Dr Joanna site is free to join to receive monthly newsletters, helpful blogs and videos and can even be personalised with your own dashboards. Once a Dr Joanna member, you can choose to subscribe to Get Lean to access all resources and be able to use all the features on the Get Lean App. For more information visit

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