Messy Monkeys – Lunchbox Swaps

Messy Monkeys – Lunchbox Swaps

Deliberating over what to put in the kid’s lunchboxes is the eternal dilemma for parents. You want to give them something that is nourishing, boosts their brain power and energy levels for school work and play, but often the healthy choices seem to be the things they won’t eat. Salad filled sandwiches can be soggy by lunchtime, your lovingly made wholegrain muffins may be dry and un-appetising when not warm, fresh from the oven and you may feel utterly confused about the snack options on the supermarket shelf.

The first piece of advice is to not get overly complicated. You do not need to give endless combinations and flavour sensations. In fact, most kids are happy with familiar foods and are quite happy to have a rotation of a few different options.

Secondly, don’t put too much in the lunchbox. If there are too many items to choose from, it is inevitable the easy-to-eat items will go first and they won’t have the time or inclination to eat the filled roll or specially prepared wrap. Think about what your child would eat at home during school hours and match the lunchbox accordingly.

To help you with what to put in the lunchbox here are a few easy swaps:

  • Ditch the white bread for a lovely wholegrain variety. The best options are breads with lots of grainy bits and seeds, but if they won’t eat these start with a smooth wholegrain option. Rolls and wholegrain wraps are terrific alternatives to mix things up across the week.
  • Swap the processed meat fillings such as ‘soccerball’ ham for freshly cooked meats or canned fish. Leftovers from the night before are ideal or poach a couple of chicken breasts at the start of the week, slice them and keep them in a container in the fridge to use through the week.
  • Swap the chips and packaged snacks for Messy Monkeys whole grain Bites. These are made with a mixture of wholegrain flours including the ancient grain quinoa and the lesser known grain sorghum. This has been shown in a recent study to improve satiety and the feeling of fullness between meals. This may help kids to feel satisfied and avoid overeating, particularly on the wrong foods. A packet of these Whole Grain Bites delivers 2g of fibre, putting them well on their way to meeting their daily fibre needs.
  • Swap the processed fruit snacks for real, whole fruit. Even if they are made from 100% fruit, this often means extra concentrated fruit juice is added for sweetness, many of the nutrients and antioxidants are lost in the processing and the end result is not much better than a sticky lolly, particularly when it comes to dental health. Whole fruit offers a complete nutrition package of fibre, naturally present sugars for energy and a whole bunch of nutrients and beneficial plant compounds. Cutting the fruit up is often the best means of ensuring they eat it – or add the whole fruit to a reusable tub of unsweetened Greek yoghurt.
  • Swap the fruit juice for water. Water is all kids need for hydration and they should not have sugary drinks, including fruit juice.


If you are still struggling to get your child to eat their lunch, Dr Joanna has some more advice for when your child’s lunch comes home uneaten.


We were lucky enough to be given a few packets of Messy Monkeys to review.

What we thought
Messy Monkeys are a handy snack food that are super yummy and a great alternative to rice crackers and unhealthy chips.

  • Yummy natural-tasting flavours (cheese, pizza flavours) and generous serving sizes.
  • A great ‘lunchbox swap’ with the burger flavour – they taste just like Burger Rings for a real treat!
  • The packets were hard to open. As a teacher, I know the pain of opening packets for fifty prep students at a time. Prepare to pull ugly faces.
  • I loved them, my 13 yo daughter loved them and my toddler loved them.
  • My toddler loved the Monkey picture and would ask for ‘Monkey chippees’.
  • I love that the kids felt like they were having a treat, and I could give them one without feeling really, really, ridiculously guilty.

Overall I thought they were a great option for a lunchbox or to have in your nappy bag or handbag for a quick, guilt-free snack.

All of the details
Messy Monkeys is a new brand delivering healthy and delicious products to address the much-needed gap in the market for kids’ nutritional snacks.

Containing only natural ingredients, these tasty Whole Grain Bites have no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives. You won’t find any palm oil, MSG or other nasties in these either. Yay! Messy Monkeys is the perfect addition for any lunchbox, with a Health Star Rating of 4, so you can be assured your little one is getting all the good stuff.

Messy Monkeys, which is made with the hidden goodness of sorghum and quinoa, offers 48 percent more fibre, 74 percent more protein, 85 percent less sugar and 45 percent less sodium than the leading competitor product.

These Whole Grain Bites are a simple and healthy choice for a nutritionally balanced lunchbox, but importantly are also packed full of flavour so your kids will love them too.

Dr Joanna McMillan Answers our Questions About Kids Nutrition

Dr Joanna McMillan Answers our Questions About Kids Nutrition

We asked Dr Joanna McMillan to answer common questions parents have while ensuring their children eat a range of nutritional foods, and have met their daily dietary requirements.

kids nutritionThrow in some food allergies and intolerances, plus the minefield that is packaged foods, and no wonder that nutrition is one of the biggest concerns that parents have, right from the moment their little one hits the six-month mark and begins to eat solid food for the first time.

From the moment children begin on solid foods, our intentions are good – fresh produce, organic only, locally grown….etc. As the meme goes, eventually they are eating corn chips of the floor and we’re just glad they’re eating something.

But, as we know even on those relaxed days,  the challenge never goes away: our children return from school with lunches uneaten, we worry if they eat a lot more than we do, or a lot less, and packaged food can be confusing, send our children on a behavioral spiral, or just not agree with their tiny tummies.

At KidSpace Gold Coast, we have the same concerns as most parents. That’s why we were super excited to be able to ask Dr Joanna McMillan, Nutritional Advisor for Freedom Foods, some questions about childhood nutrition, and to have her answer them for us:

My 8 year old boy ‘forgets’ to eat his school lunch. How can I ensure he is eating properly throughout the day?

Most kids will have days where they come home and frustratingly your lovingly packed lunch is half eaten or worse still barely touched. The answer given is that they were busy playing, had some extra curricular activity on or some other distraction. My advice is not to worry too much, provided the child is a healthy weight, growing and developing appropriately and eating well outside of school. In an ideal world of course we do want them to eat a healthy lunch, but at the end of the day if you ensure a nutritious breakfast, afternoon tea when they come home and dinner, then their nutritional needs will be met. To save food waste (and your annoyance!) try giving them their packed lunch as their afternoon snack if it comes home uneaten – provided it’s been kept cold of course and hasn’t been squashed in their bag. To encourage him to eat his lunch talk to him about managing his time and the importance of eating to fuel his afternoon – his brain in the classroom and his muscles if playing sport. Lastly do ensure his lunch is easy and quick to eat – few kids will take the time to deal with fiddly food, or too many items. Keep it simple and easy, with only a few options and you stand a better chance of an empty lunchbox coming home.


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What are the nutritional requirements of a 13 year old girl? Should she eat the same as an adult or should she be eating more of certain food groups?

A 13 year old girl needs more calcium than an adult woman since she is still growing and to develop her optimal bone density – the RDI for adult woman is 1000mg while for a 13 year old it is 1300mg. The recommendation to meet this is for her to include 3.5 serves of dairy foods (milk, yoghurt and/or cheese) every day. If she can’t or won’t eat dairy then a calcium fortified soy milk or other fortified alternative is pretty essential. The other nutrient to watch for is iron as girls of this age often choose to avoid or eat less red meat. Once they start to menstruate their iron requirements almost double from 8mg/d to 15mg/d. It’s tricky, although not impossible, to meet this requirement without animal sources of iron, as these are better absorbed than plant sources. Finally, in terms of energy, this is very much dependent on how active she is. Be guided by her appetite and whether she is a healthy weight – teaching her to have a good relationship with food and to enjoy healthy food is key at this age.

Is it true that food with additives have an impact on a child’s behaviour?

Yes, but not all food additives. The now famous “Southampton 6” are six artificial colours that were identified in a study by Southampton University in the UK to lead to behavioural changes in some children. The old news is that many companies are voluntarily phasing out these colours and using natural alternatives instead. Some kids may also be particularly sensitive to chemicals in foods, and so it’s certainly worthwhile paying attention to changes in their behaviour, but it’s all too easy to attribute normal playing up behaviour to a food. The bottom line is if their diet is mostly fresh whole foods then the odd packaged food with additives probably won’t affect them. In contrast a diet filled with many packaged food and lacking the nutrients found in whole foods will of course affect their physical and mental health, caused as much by the absence of nutrients as the inclusion of additives.

When buying packaged food for my child, what should I look for when reading a food label?

My advice is to read the ingredients list first. If it reads like a list of food ingredients that you could buy and recognise, that’s a good start. If it has a long list of ingredients with many items that you don’t recognise or look like they belong in the chemistry lab, then put it back. Then look at the nutrition information panel and check out the sugar content, the sodium content and so on. Depending on the food category what to look for is different, but in essence use this to compare products and choose those generally with less sugar (although do recognise the nutrition panel does not differentiate between added and naturally occurring sugars) and less sodium. Importantly look at the kilojoules per serve and have a rough idea of how many kilojoules they need in a day. If a healthy looking oat bar contains 1000kJ per bar this is way too much for a child! You’ll find more information on energy requirements on

How do I know if my child has a food intolerance or allergy?

Allergies and intolerances often have the same symptoms, although an intolerance does not involve the immune system. Things to look for primarily are skin conditions, respiratory symptoms and gut symptoms. These may not be food related as allergies can also be to environmental agents, but this is your start point. Then seek the help of an experienced dietitian in this are to help you to pinpoint the problem. Allergies are more easily diagnosed as they do involve the immune system and therefore an allergy clinic can test various foods and identify any problems.

Mind Full or Mindful? Helping your child live in the moment.

Mind Full or Mindful? Helping your child live in the moment.

We live in the age of technology, of instant access, where busy seems to be the new black. Most parents are consumed by busy… living off too little sleep, on too much coffee, chauffeuring kids to and from school, play dates and the endless extra-curricular activities. As a result it can often seem that most of our day is spent on auto-pilot.

Have you ever experienced the following?

  • Driven in the car and arrived at your destination without remembering the journey
  • Asked your partner the same question four times and still don’t remember the answer
  • Eaten a whole packet of Tim Tams and wondered where they all went

We live in a constant routine without truly experiencing, our minds forever wandering to what happened yesterday, last week, last year, or focused on that never ending ‘to do’ list.

If we do this surely our children must too?

Have you ever asked your child what they did at school that day and been met with an empty response? Like adults children can also fall into the trap of running on auto-pilot … being told where to be, what to do, and how to do it.

How do we encourage our children to live in the moment and be fully present and why is this important?

The answer is teaching them to be mindful. Mindfulness is the process of ‘focusing attention to internal and external experiences in the present moment, without judgement’.

The benefits of mindfulness in children include:

  • Increase self-awareness, social awareness and self-confidence
  • Help those high energy kids to better regulate their emotions and behaviour.
  • Improve the ability to understand what another person is thinking or feeling
  • Help build positive relationships.
  • Reduce the severity of depression and anxiety
  • Build resilience by helping them to cope better with stress and engage more fully in the world.

How do I get my child to practice mindfulness?

Mindfulness is most effective when it is done regularly in short doses. It doesn’t require you getting your 6 year old to lie still for 30 minutes or meditate for hours. Children are imaginative and creative, and that is how their mindfulness practice should be. Start with mindfulness exercises of no longer than 5 minutes. As your child grows and mindfulness is practiced more regularly the duration can increase.

Here are some quick, fun and creative activities to get you started:

  1. Body Scan
  • Have your child lie down on their back on a comfortable surface and close their eyes.
  • Then, make your way through each muscle group telling them to squeeze that muscle in their body as tight as they can – squish their toes and feet, squeeze their hands into fists, make their legs and arms as hard as stone, shrug their shoulders, and scrunch up their faces.
  • After a few seconds, have them release that muscle and relax for a few moments. Repeat for each muscle group two times, before moving on to the next muscle. Encourage them to think about how their body is feeling throughout the activity.


  1. Awareness of breath – Balloon Breathing

Sitting in a comfortable cross-legged or lying position, ask your child to place their hands on their stomach. Tell them to imagine they have a balloon in their belly, and get your child to choose the colour of the balloon.

Instruct them to take a deep breath in through their nose, noticing their tummy rise as though they are filling up the balloon with air. Gently, blow out through their mouth, getting them to imagine the balloon is floating away in to the sky. Get them to choose a different colour balloon and repeat the process five times.

  1. Spidey Senses

For those little super heroes, instruct them to turn on their ‘Spidey senses’ – smell, sight, hearing, taste and touch. Ask your child to identify three things they can smell, see, hear, taste and touch in their environment. This activity is simple, but so effective in bringing your child to the present moment

  1. Mindfulness Walk – Safari

This activity turns an average, everyday walk outside into an exciting new adventure. Tell your child that you will be going on a safari, and their goal is to notice as many birds, bugs, creepy-crawlies, and any other animals as they can. Anything that walks, crawls, swims, or flies is of interest, and they’ll need to focus all of their senses to find them, especially the little ones.

  1. Blowing bubbles

Have your kids focus on taking in a deep, slow breath, and exhaling steadily to fill the bubble. Encourage them to pay close attention to the bubbles as they form, detach, and pop or float away.

  1. Gratitude Time

Before bed, share something that you are grateful for that happened that day – something that made you happy, and have your child do the same.

On a final note, a popular application that I recommend daily to parents in my psychology practice is the Smiling Mind app. This app is free to download, and features hundreds of guided mindfulness exercises for children as young as 6 years old.

Let’s aim to be mindful instead of mind full!

Whatever you are doing, ask yourself, “What’s the state of my mind?” – Dalai Lama, 1999


What Impact is Your Child’s Back Pack Having On Them?

What Impact is Your Child’s Back Pack Having On Them?

Imagine that you were asked by your personal trainer to wear a weighted vest which was 10-15% of your body weight between 8am and 3pm, Monday to Friday for 12 years.

How do you think that you would cope with carrying that extra 6-10kgs on a daily basis? You would probably get a sore back, neck or shoulder right?

In essence this is what many people are asking their children to do when they pack their bag for school every day. Next time that your child complains that their bag is heavy or their back hurts from carrying their school bag it might be worthwhile thinking about the above analogy.

Obviously, often this hard to avoid but below are 5 some simple tips which may help lighten the load for your child and reduce the risk of them sustaining an injury as a result of carrying a heavy back pack:

  1. Ensure that your child’s school bag does not exceed 10% of their body weight – pack only what is necessary for that day and encourage your children to only bring home what they need that night
  2. Choose a bag with a padded back which can mould to the shape of your child
  3. Encourage your children to wear both shoulder straps in order to distribute the weight of the bag evenly across the body. The use of chest and waist straps (although not always considered cool) also help alleviate the weight placed on the child’s shoulders and back
  4. Choose a school bag with multiple compartments and pack the heaviest objects (e.g. books, laptop) closest to the child’s body. This allows the weight to be placed closer to the child’s centre of gravity and decreases the lever arm of the weight through the back.
  5. If you have packed only the bare necessities and still think your child’s bag is too heavy consider a separate carry bag for some items.

Any questions regarding fitting your child’s backpack or on what bag to choose feel free to email

Jay Scott-Hunter

Physiotherapist and Co-Owner of Gecko Sports Gold Coast

Meningococcal vaccinations: Exploring the debate in Australia

Meningococcal vaccinations: Exploring the debate in Australia

Meningococcal vaccinations: Exploring the debate in Australia


Meningococcal is a rare disease with devastating effects. The very worst case scenarios can involve brain damage, organ failure, and even death. In Australia, these disastrous outcomes can deeply concern parents who aren’t able to vaccinate their child against meningococcal.

Bexsero, a relatively new vaccine, can protect children against the virulent meningococcal strain B.  However, Bexsero is not currently included in the federal government’s National Immunisation Program. This has been a controversial topic amongst parents, especially as pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline announced there would be a global shortage of Bexsero vaccines from the end of 2016.

According to reports, a worldwide shortage resulted from countries such as the United Kingdom and Ireland implementing the Bexsero vaccine as part of their national public health schemes. Globally, there is now a much higher demand for the meningococcal-B vaccination and very little supply available.

Why hasn’t Bexsero been added to Australia’s National Immunisation Program before now?

In 2013, a ruling from the federal Department of Heath determined the meningococcal-B vaccine would save less than 10 lives, over a five year period. However, the cost for implementing these vaccinations would be over $400 million. Unfortunately, this has made meningococcal less of a priority for the government, when compared to other infectious diseases like the measles, mumps and rubella.

Within Australia’s current privatised system, the Bexsero vaccine costs around $120 per injection. This is an expense that most Aussie families cannot easily afford, especially if they have a number of children to care for. Even though meningococcal can respond to intense antibiotic therapy, many parents remain fearful of the disease, which has a fatality rate of 10 – 15%.

Without vaccinations, are Australian children at a higher risk of contracting meningococcal?


“Due to the cost of Bexsero, meningococcal vaccinations are typically reserved for children who might be at increased risk of contracting meningococcal,” explains Dr Harvey, the Deputy Medical Director at House Call Doctor. “For example, children who have been exposed to meningococcal at their school or day-care may need the Bexsero vaccine as an important preventative method.”

Dr Ryan Harvey is in fact one of the few doctors within Queensland who has treated meningococcal occurring in toddlers. Incredibly, all of Dr Harvey’s meningococcal patients have survived and gone on to lead full and enriched lives.

“If parents suspect their child has meningococcal, they should seek immediate medical intervention, as patients can go from seeming their normal selves to needing intensive care within a matter of hours,” says Dr Harvey. “The disease is characterised by a distinctive red, purple or black rash, that does not fade when pressure is applied.”

“Fortunately within our community, meningococcal is still far less prevalent than other infectious diseases, and there is a strong level of public awareness about the disease and its symptoms,” says Dr Harvey.

For more information on the National Immunisation Program, visit the federal Department of Health online.  If you suspect that your child has meningococcal, immediately phone Triple 0 (000) and request an Ambulance. If your child needs acute medical care, that does not warrant an Emergency response, phone House Call Doctor on 13 55 66.