Picky kids’ shocking lunchbox demands

Jaded parents are learning that what goes into their offspring's lunch box gets casually marked down in the playground by eating elites these days.

The traditional Vegemite sanger and a Popper just doesn't cut the mustard, to mix a metaphor.

Quenching little appetites is one thing, but satiating emerging egos is the new black as what goes into the lunch box now is a source of schoolyard pride, or dread embarrassment.

In the first two days of school Saved By Michelle has devoured the schoolyard stories of extravagant lunches of lamb cutlets (they're currently a whopping $40 a kilo), edible glitter (because let's face it who doesn't want their lunch to sparkle), small Eskies with leftover pasta and curry, boxes of expensive designer salads and school gate UberEats deliveries.

And a daily tuckshop spending limit of $20 for your pint-sized scholar is par for the course (well, the first course, at least) and apparently stainless steel bento-style lunch boxes that cost upwards of $80 are all the go in some circles.

But not all mums and dads buy into the lunch box envy steaks (sorry stakes).

Chelmer mum, Hannah Blaszczyk, has three sons aged 11, 9, and six, and two stepsons aged 12 and 10, and has had to find ways to cut costs to feed five hungry growing boys each day.

"I buy mud cake from Coles on special and cut and freeze it," she says. "Carrots are cheap and my boys love them and I also buy the bags of odd shaped apples.

"Then there's Vegemite sandwiches if I run out of ham and I'll also make extra pasta at dinner time and give them the left overs which fills them up."

Healthy lunchbox combos from Nutrition Australia: Take a look at some healthy lunchbox combos from Nutrition Australia.

Mum of two and one-third of The Sunday Mail's Parent Jury, Elisha Casagrande, says make-your-own snacks also cuts back on costs.

"To be honest I think most convenient, packaged foods are really expensive and significantly bump up the cost," she says.

"You can make your own muesli bars for a fraction of the cost of pre-packaged muesli bars but if you're not prepared to invest the time, you'll invest your money instead.

"We tend to avoid most known brands and lean more towards the supermarket brands.

"Not only are they cheaper but they're often healthier too.

"I also aim to purchase foods that aren't at eye level on the shelves - they are usually the brands with big marketing budgets that care more about sales than health."

So should we just save parents' the stress and outsource lunches to schools?

Flinders University researchers reckon our kids would be better off, if we followed what is already common practice in the UK.

Flinders Caring Futures Institute deputy director Professor Rebecca Golley says universal school-provided lunch models meant all children in the school were served up the same nutritious diet, with less room for sweet, salty or fatty 'treats' in the mix.

"A universal school-provided lunch model could help to ensure all children have access to food at school, reduce stigma of children not having lunch or having different types of foods to their peers, and help to ensure children are provided with healthy lunch options," she says.

The Flinders University research team has separately completed a project describing the dietary intake of five-12-year-old children during school hours.

They found that 40 per cent of the energy kids consume at school comes from unhealthy food, with most children consuming no or very few serves of vegetables, protein-rich foods, or dairy during school hours.

Commonly consumed foods included biscuits, processed meat, packaged snacks, bread and fruit.

"Good nutrition during children's school years supports their growth, learning and development, with primary school aged children consuming up to almost half of their daily energy intake during school hours," says fellow Flinders researcher Brittany Johnson.

Originally published as Picky kids' shocking lunchbox demands