The New Lunchbox Food Groups

I don't quite remember learning my first Food Pyramid, but I'm pretty sure I was in a Princess Lea hairstyle and a handmade dress at the time. Ah, the food groups. The breads and grains, the veggies and fruits, the meat, the milk. This many servings of this or that or whatever, and you'll live forever! 

Little did I realise those food groups, stacked so convincingly atop one another, were embroiled in more controversy* than a baby-seal-steak. Nutritionists pitted against health professionals pitted against agricultural lobbyists, in a win-or-die fight for supremacy. 

What? Dairy's out? Over my dead body.

Of course I'm exaggerating a little bit here, but I want to make the point that choosing the "right" food can seem impossible in light of all the research and guidelines and - yes - propaganda out there. I've spoken about my own Food Guidelines before - based around variety and moderation and presentation and enjoyment.

And in my opinion, lunchboxes are no different. Variety, moderation, presentation and enjoyment. Except that kids are kids, and they'll be distracted. They'll want to eat as fast as possible so they can go play. They'll either be jealously eyeing up their friend's lunchbox, or showing off their own.

Personally, I'm going for the second.

So here are my very own LUNCHBOX FOOD GROUPS:
  2. CHEWY
Not what you were expecting?  Well, there are caveats of course. Otherwise you could end up with a lunchbox full of Doritos + saltwater taffy + cupcakes + soda. In a minute, I'll give some examples of the foods that I use within each category, but let's first consider our food guidelines as they apply here:

Variety - That means different lunchbox foods every day - but don't worry, it won't be hard.

Moderation - That means too much of a good thing is not a good thing - a lunchbox full of dried fruit is still a lot of (natural) sugars. But it also means sticking (when possible) to homemade, preservative-and-additive free foods.

Presentation - This is critical for successful lunchboxing, and is what inspired my original post on lunchbox styling here. I no longer use plastic lunchboxes (which feature prominently in the photos on that post), but the point is:
the contents of those lunchboxes look f***ing amazing.
How could you not eat a lunch with all those beautiful colours and textures and flavours, all presented in bite-size pieces? I can't tell you how many teachers or carers or parents have commented (positively) on Nelle's lunches over the years, and mainly it's because of presentation. 

If you want something to be eaten, make it look good. Make it rainbow. You'll be surprised.

Enjoyment - I will give you some ideas for lunchbox foods below, and over the next little while some recipes, too, but remember what your own child likes and doesn't. I never pack a lunchbox full of controversial foods, but I do like to test out new things here and there. 

And I always try to put in one AWESOME food, which may be secretly packed with nutrition - ha! - but which my daughter feels excitement for having. Things like muffins or homemade muesli bars or even cookies. I can tuck zucchini into anything, people. And so can you.

Ok, let's look at some great contenders for each of the Lunchbox Food Groups:

Crunchy | Crispy
These tend to be some of Nelle's favourites, so I'm not averse to including 2 in a lunchbox, provided they're not both fruit.
  • cut, sliced, sticked veggies
  • fruit slices
  • homemade veggie chips
  • baked chickpeas
  • homemade crackers like these or these or these

I'll only include fruit here if I haven't included whole fruits as well. For a lunchbox, I prefer to stick to one kind of fruit (unless I'm totally desperate).

Soft | Bready
I find these go down best in small sizes and/or unusual shapes, and if I'm including a slightly-sweet one (like a sweetish muffin or cookie), I'll generally also include a savoury one (sandwich etc).
  • homemade mini muffins like these or these or these
  • puff pastry bites - baked around favourite fillings
  • tortilla sushi - tortillas rolled around cheese or beans or whatever, and sliced
  • bread sandwiches with nut butter or cheese or organic meat (no nitrites)
  • avocado sushi rolls, with or without nori
  • scrolls - again, baked around favourite savoury fillings
  • potato puffs
  • homemade cookies like these or these or these or these or these  - baked with minimal sugar and (where possible) maximal veggies

I tend to save soup or smoothies for afterschool-food (another post, later), and go for milk or water at lunch. I prefer Nelle eats whole-fruit (dried or raw) rather than juice. 


So these are my Lunchbox Food Groups - the basis for the lunches I pack every day. I hope these ideas will help you feel more confident about what you're packing off to school. In coming posts, I'll give you heaps of great recipes to use for each Food Group, as well as that tricky After School | Pre-Dinner time.

All good, mammas (and daddas). All good.
Amanda xx
*Deconstructing the food pyramid. 2012. Nutrition Health Review 106:2,7.


  1. I think this is a wonderful way to look at the lunchbox. Thanks for some great ideas!

  2. What a wonderful way to look at the lunchbox. My children are both very keen to visual representation. Great ideas here! And, I completely agree about your zucchini story. :) I would also like to share a bit of my experience. Since moving to Greece from the USA, I have changed my whole attitude and standard towards food. There is little convenience in the Greek diet and it has changed my ways with food for the better (as well as gaining experience cooking in my Greek husband's restaurant!) But, my personal transformation to a healthier foodstyle actually started out as trying to replicate USA mass-produced and/or fast food favorites that I missed! Time passed and trips taken back to the States opened my sense about foods I thought I missed, but on second taste were quite unpalatable. Over the years, this experimentation became a valuable lesson about my health and diet. I quickly realized after several replications that the convenience of a food was way undermining the quality of it. I found it was much more fun to do things by hand and much more tasteful to use "whole" foods. No more food out of a box or can for this girl and neither for our children! Learning what food looks like from its natural state and how to experiment with it should be a lesson for everyone!

  3. impeccable timing! thanks for all the useful ideas and i look forward to your other posts on the topic! I'm really getting stuck in a rut with lunches at the moment.

  4. I love your blog :) You give such great tips!

    This post makes me want to have a child so I can pack awesome lunches :)

    Thanks for all the fun ideas!

  5. @Jennifer Bakatselou Jennifer - you've got a powerful story to share, and I'm so happy you took the time to write some of it here! I think your's is such an interesting perspective, going from a 'convenience-food' nation to a 'whole-food' nation. It makes you think, doesn't it - that it's no wonder the Greeks are known for their food and the culture around the food!

    I think you're right onto something, that maybe convenience and speed-of-service don't lend themselves well to developing a strong, family-oriented food culture. Becoming a food-based culture means starting from scratch, literally! Hmmm... All good messages, as far as I'm concerned. Thank you :)

    PS. Consider this a WARNING that you are totally on my radar for a visit sometime!! Greek restaurant? Seriously, girl, how could I NOT come? :)

  6. Sarah, I hope you *will* find it all useful, as it sounds like a busy year for you .... :)

    Erin, practice on your husband - veggies shaped like stars and flowers and cookie-cuttered-out sandwiches make for great talking points with the colleagues ... :)

  7. THank you fro all of these tips... my little man is staring preschool this year and I was wondering what to put in his little lunch box!!! You've given me some great ideas :)

  8. first off i have to say i love your blog! i have only just found it recently and so many of your posts are so like my brain ;)
    my daughters preschool has a 'nude food' policy which i think is awesome and also makes picking lunch foods pretty easy. its basically whole food, nothing pre-packaged and nothing too sweet or over processed. so in her lunch box today, morning tea box had an apple and a handful of grapes. lunch box a chicken and cheese sandwich on homemade bread. arvo tea box sunflower seeds, pepitas, sultanas, currants and goji berries. very simple! i tried to get fancy last week and baked blueberry muffins but they were not allowed!! so no need to feel slack about not baking this week.
    thanks for all your inspiration!

  9. What great categories! Nelle is lucky to have you pack her such a thoughtful (and delicious!) lunch.

  10. Great article Amanda! I think variety is the key to keeping lunch boxes interesting. I put goji berries ( in as a snack for my kids. They love the sweet flavour and it ensures they get a wealth of antioxidants and B vitamins.


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Thanks for commenting! Amandaxx