Pack protein in plenty of ways

Mikala Atkinson, Nutritionist

You may have seen in the news this week that the Healthy Lunchbox team at Cancer Council NSW have come under fire for encouraging parents to find alternatives to ham when packing kids’ lunchboxes.

We understand that parents feel inundated with health messages around what to feed their kids. Our aim is to support parents in packing a healthy lunchbox through providing information and practical tips and ideas. However, it’s always up to individual families to decide how to use the information.

Why do we recommend leaving ham out of the lunchbox?

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has found that processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer, which is one of the most common cancers in Australia. After reviewing all the available evidence, experts concluded that over the long term, having a 50g portion of processed meat each day increased the risk of bowel cancer by 18 per cent.

We know that ham is a lunch box staple for many families, however ham is a processed meat along with bacon, salami, frankfurt, prosciutto and some sausages such as cabanossi and kransky. By limiting our intake of processed meat, we can reduce our risk of cancer.

What is our advice?

The advice we give to parents when it comes to packing a healthy lunch is to try to use wholegrains, pack in some veg and reach for some protein. We know that most families don’t have the time or resources to pack a fancy lunchbox each day – a cheese and tomato sandwich, a piece of fruit and a tub of yoghurt will do just fine.

We suggest not relying on ham or other processed meats as a daily protein staple. As with all the food we eat, moderation is key! Try and include other protein options when packing school lunches. This can include cheese, egg, tofu, hummus, BBQ chicken, or leftover home-cooked lean meat such as roast pork, beef or lamb.

Looking for more recipes and ideas?

Cancer Council WA’s Crunch&Sip website - - is developed by nutritionists and dietitians and contains recipes and ideas that are family-friendly, packed full of fruit, vegies and wholegrains and only use simple, budget-friendly ingredients. We know that every family is different, and so we include a variety of recipes that range from super simple through to slightly more adventurous.

Where can you find out more?

If you would like to know more about our healthy lunchbox session, Packed with Goodness, please visit our website or contact us at