My daughter has just started at an ESF primary school and has to take a packed lunch. This has turned into a nightmare as the contents come home as an uneaten mush every day. Amanda Watson responds: Find out how long your child has to eat her lunch and if it is not long enough take this up with her class teacher. In some schools, children are given as little as 10 minutes. They are urged to eat quickly then go out to play, giving class teachers time to eat their lunches in peace. The rest is up to you. According to nutritionists, the key is to get children involved in what goes in the lunchbox. The more they get to make their own choices, the more the contents are likely to get eaten. First, let them select their own lunch bag and water bottle. Then let them plan, shop for and prepare food with an adult. Help them build nutritious lunches by keeping one container of fruit, one of vegetables, and one of snacks in the fridge - they get to choose one item from each and then just need to add a sandwich or thermos containing the traditional rice or noodle dish. Pre-pack healthy snacks in small bags with them each week, dried fruit, for instance. Let them make some of it themselves, such as their own trail mix. Allow them to wash fresh fruit for the week. Teach them how to make their own sandwiches - rolls might be easier than dealing with slices of bread. Show them how to wrap a tortilla. Talk about healthy fillings. Talk to them about why you'd like them to listen to your views on nutrition but be careful not to reject their suggestions constantly. A child's lunch and snacks should be providing around 30 per cent of their daily protein, carbohydrate, calcium, iron and zinc needs. The Department of Health suggests a ratio of half rice, noodles, pasta or wholegrain bread, a third vegetables and a sixth protein, as well as a piece of fruit. Recommendations also include using less salt, sugar and fat, and going for higher fibre foods. So an apple would be better than an apple pie, for instance; a packet of low-fat low-salt oven baked crisps better than full-fat. According to Hong Kong-based pediatric nutritionist Vicki Gallard, one of the most important concepts nutritionists are trying to get across is to go for variety. 'We all know fruit and vegetables give us vitamins, minerals and fibre, and some of those act as antioxidants to protect the body, some are antibacterial, some help protect against cancers.' She believes it's best not to ban 'junk' food altogether. Try to stress balance instead. She suggests talking about growing-up food if the child is young. Steering children to healthy choices might be necessary for years to come. Left to themselves, most would probably be eating daily fries, hotdogs or siu-mai. A child's interest in packing up lunch might not last long, but hopefully parents can keep it going long enough to teach basics about nutrition and build healthy habits that will last a lifetime.