School lunch box rules and what parents are really feeding their children
School lunch boxes? Let's unpack the issue (no pun intended).
What's really in that lunch box? (iStock)
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I remember always looking forward to lunchtime at school on days you knew your lunch was good; it felt like a make or break, really.

For kids, it can be something really exciting but for parents, school lunch boxes can be quite tricky to tackle, especially when there are specific school lunch rules to abide by. 

You want your child to have a healthy and sustainable lunch but it can become quite costly. Even if you are by the means, school lunch can become quite the effort to prepare as well.


If any, what are some of the issues you have with school lunch box rules or packing a lunch for your child in general? Send us your comments and we could publish them. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous. 

While some schools may have quite the lengthy list of foods that are prohibited from school lunch boxes, others have no rules at all.

We looked around and compiled the most common rules for lunchboxes in South African schools:

School 1:

Not suitable: 

  • Sandwich fillings with too much sugar e.g. jams, chocolate spreads
  • Sweets, cakes, chips, etc.
  • Fizzy drinks, Oros, flavoured milk, juice, etc.
  • Learners are only allowed to drink water at school and parents are required to provide a labelled water bottle for this purpose.
  • Exceptions to the above may be made for birthday celebrations, but this must be prearranged and will be at the teacher’s discretion.

Also see: Beautiful lunchbox ideas (that don't require cold cuts)

School 2:

Not suitable:

  • Chips, popcorn, sweets (even sugared dried fruit)
  • Pre-packaged snacks of any kind (including cheddars, pretzels, nuts & raisins)
  • Sweet muffins and cakes
  • “Health” bars
  • Vienna sausages
  • Biltong (takes too long to eat)
  • Nuts (takes too long to eat, and because of increasing number of children with serious allergies)
  • White bread sandwiches
  • Drinking or other yogurt
  • Chocolate drinks

School 3:

Next-level lunches are served at this school cafe: 

  • Wholesome, “home-cooked” meals and snacks to learners. 
  • All baked goods prepared in their kitchen daily, using fresh good quality ingredients.
  • Their flour is stone-ground, eggs free-range and they use low GI recipes wherever possible.
  • Ingredients are carefully selected and they don’t use any pre-mixed powders, sauces etc in their meals, ensuring that the preservative and flavourant content is kept to a minimum.
  • They recently purchased a food dehydrator and will be drying their own selection of sulphur-dioxide free dried fruit.
  • Fresh produce is supplied by the school’s biodynamic/organic garden and the local greengrocer.
  • They use free-range, hormone- and antibiotic-free meat and chicken from an organic butchery.
  • A nutritious lunch is prepared every day, including a vegetarian option.

So... what are parents really putting in their kids' lunchboxes? 

As you can imagine, not all parents (and learners) are exactly sticking to all these rules. Some school lunches are a little more "realistic" than others.  

A Reddit user posed the question: What do you REALLY send to school for your kids’ lunches?

What do you REALLY send to school for your kids’ lunches? from r/breakingmom

This parent openly shared how it isn't always easy to pack the lunchbox you wished you could when you have a fussy eater. 

Some schools require that your child have a certain amount of fruit and veg, but what if they're just not the type to enjoy vegetables?


Also see: Send this drink to school

"I'd rather they eat than not eat"

One parent feels that they would rather have their child eat (even if it may not necessarily be the healthiest things) than not eat at all, therefore they would only send food their child actually likes with them to school. 

"I feel like I add the fruit/veg just so the teachers don't judge me" 

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Some parents feel pressured to stick to the conventional school lunch box requirements or rules so they add things they know their children won't particularly enjoy. This becomes wasteful, but out of fear of judgement from teachers, they add it anyway. No one wants to be the "unhealthy parent" who "doesn't care about their child's health."

A tip for the picky eaters...

A great way to get picky eaters to actually eat some of the things you want them to would be to give them some variety and something they regard as a "treat", but a healthier version.

Also see: Lunch box tips for your little one


"My kids have been making their own lunches since they turned 6"

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Some parents adopt a completely different approach and allow their children to make their own lunches, not to save them time, but to create more independent thinkers. This should also avoid food wastage since the children decide what they would like to eat. 

Eat the rest of your lunch at home 

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This parent believes that their children need to eat the rest of their lunch when they get home and they are hungry. This ensures that no food is wasted and is also a good lesson for kids about food wastage.

"I make things that aren't necessarily [but] at least it's not full of chemicals"

This parent feels that they can pack in things their child likes as long as it isn't too bad for them.

Chat back: 

What does your school's rules stipulated about school lunches? Are they easy to follow or do you find it hard to comply? Send us your comments and we could publish them. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous. 

Read more: 

WATCH: Delicious & nutritious lunchboxes for the kids for every day of the week!

Leave little notes in your child's lunchbox, it will make their day

Healthy lunchbox ideas for school

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