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14 school lunch ideas (that are not processed meat)

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

If you are anything like me, it is now over halfway through the year, and you are in the need of some lunch box inspiration!

But let’s step away from the deli counter…….as often as possible anyway

What are processed meats?

Processed meat is any meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes, this includes (but is not limited to);

-Hot dogs



- Salami and metwurst

- Fritz

- Twiggy sticks

- Prosciutto

- Canned meat (like corned beef or spam).

What are the current recommendations for processed meat?

Processed meats are convenient and most kids love them, but they are very high in salt and fat and are associated with poor health outcomes. For example, processed meats contain chemicals like nitrates and nitrites (additives 249, 250, 251, or 252), that are confirmed to cause carcinogenic compounds when consumed and can increase the risk of bowel cancer. The risk of developing bowel cancer is 1.18 times higher for those who eat 50 grams of processed meat per day compared to those who eat none. (50g of processed meat is equivalent to less than 2 slices of bacon or one hot dog). Those who eat the lowest amount of processed meat are likely to have a lower lifetime risk of bowel cancer than the rest of the population. These findings were based on more than 800 epidemiological studies.

- The Australian Cancer Council recommends “avoiding all processed meats such as Frankfurt’s, salami, bacon, and ham”.

- The Australian Dietary Guidelines for children recommend “limiting consumption of foods high in saturated fat, including pies, processed meats, and commercial burgers, among other foods.”

Does this mean you need to avoid all processed meat for your child all the time?

Does this mean you can't give your child a hotdog? or a ham and cheese croisssant?..........No, but we can make efforts to reduce how often processed meats are served, and reduce the portion sizes of how much we serve.

Ideally, for children, we don't want to label processed meat as 'bad', but we can increase other options more often, reduce how much we serve processed meat, and focus on increasing a variety of other protein sources.

The advice from all current guidelines when it comes to processed meat is to LIMIT and REDUCE.

(Of course, with all nutrition recommendations, every family and situation is different)

For children I recommend:

- Processed meats are not an everyday food

- That serve sizes should be kept small, well under 50g/day

But my child loves a ham sandwich:

So do mine, but I won't serve them every day, and if they ask:

'Ham isn't on the menu today, but you can have ......'

14 lunchbox ideas, that are not processed meat

1. Cheese and Tomato Sandwich

2. Grated cheese and grated carrot wrap

3. Vegemite and cheese sandwich or wrap.

4. Tinned tuna, mayonnaise, and cucumber sandwich

5. Avocado, and cheese sandwich

6. Leftover roast chicken and lettuce wrap

7. Hummus, tomato, lettuce, and avocado wrap

8. Cucumber, cheese, and butter roll

9. ‘Sushi’ bread wraps – avocado, tuna and mayo, and cucumber in a bread wrap

10. Omelette wrap

11. Pizza top English muffin – English muffin cut in half spread with tomato paste, cheese, sliced olives, and pineapple (toast or grill and let cool before packing)

12. Egg sandwich – boiled egg, mayo, lettuce

13. Cream cheese and tomato roll

14. Cheesy Zucchini Muffins

x Anna


Anna Ritan is an Australian-based Paediatric Dietitian (APD) and Nutritionist with over 12 years of experience.

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