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Wondering what to put in your child’s lunchbox without breaking the bank? As hard-pressed parents continue to battle with ever-rising back-to-school costs, new research shows that children can get their recommended 3 servings of dairy a per day for just 65 cents.

The survey of prices in Ireland’s four biggest supermarkets Survey information provided in notes found that packing a lunch box with a portion of milk, yogurt or cheese offers good value for money and packs a great nutritional punch.

Dr Mary Harrington, Senior Nutritionist with National Dairy Council said: “Back to school is one of the most expensive times of the year for parents and, with food prices rising across the board, it has never more challenging to feed a family affordably whilst also guaranteeing that kids get a healthy balanced diet.

“Our survey of supermarket prices found that the recommended 3 servings of dairy per day for 5-8 year olds, costs on average €0.65, so putting a dairy product in your child’s lunchbox provides excellent value for money while also packing a real nutritional punch.

“One serving each of milk, yogurt and cheese, provides a wide range of nutrients, including calcium, protein, iodine, phosphorus and B vitamins – all of which play an important role in your kid’s health. For example, calcium is needed for normal bone growth and development and iodine contributes to normal growth and brain function.”

The NDC survey of prices in Dunnes Stores, Tesco, SuperValu, and Aldi supermarkets found that it costs an average of 21c for a 200ml serving of milk, 14c for a 25g serving of hard cheese, and 30c for a 125g pot of yoghurt.

It comes at a time when food price inflation in Ireland is running at more than 10% Source: Statistica

A Safefood report earlier this year noted that food was one of the largest proportions of minimum essential spending in 2022, and the largest category of spending for an urban household with children, apart from childcare. The cost of a child’s minimum food needs in an urban area was: €22.53 (pre-school), €33.98 (primary school) and €49.89 (secondary).

bodyPhotoThe Department of Health’s recommendations for healthy eating includes 3 servings from the ‘milk, yogurt and cheese’ food group for those aged 5-8 years; with 5 servings recommended for 9-18 year olds due to the importance of calcium during this life stage.

Dr Mary Harrington added: “Most Irish children bring a packed lunch to school, and given that it is one of your three key meals a day, it’s important that it should contain all the major food groups. However, if you’re concerned that something won’t be eaten, a good approach is to try it at home first before putting it in the lunch box, that way you’ll know whether your child will enjoy it. Another good idea is to get your child involved in preparing the school lunch so they become more interested in what they eat."

A typical packed school lunch should contain:
  • 1 portion of starchy carbohydrate (e.g., wholegrain breads, pittas and wraps, brown rice/pasta)
  • 1 portion of meat or meat alternative (e.g., chicken, fish, egg, pulses)
  • 1 portion of dairy (e.g., yogurt, cheese)
  • 1(+) portion of vegetable (e.g., carrot sticks, peppers, sweetcorn, lettuce, onion)
  • 1(+) portion of fruit (e.g., apple, orange, banana, pear, kiwi)
  • A drink of water and/or milk


This year, the NDC is working with Waterford-based broadcaster, cook and consultant Aisling Larkin to create a range of delicious and sustainable meal ideas as Back to School time approaches. Aisling is a busy mum of three and offers us her top tips for eating well whilst watching those purse strings. Aisling has spent the last 15 years teaching, creating, learning, consulting, and delivering on all things food and wellness and does weekly slots on the Six O’Clock Show and the Hard Shoulder on Newstalk.

Aisling says: “Feeding a family well is achievable but takes a little planning. As parents, we need to be conscious consumers making considered choices that support our children's well-being but also fit into our busy lives. For me, making a weekly meal plan, eating seasonally, ‘cooking once but eating twice’ and eating more flexibly can really help when returning to the back-to-school routine. I love putting a modern take on some classic dishes, including wholegrain, dairy and fruit and vegetables in each meal is non-negotiable, and I love to mix it up a little each week.”

Parents want to provide a healthy lunchbox, that won’t cost the earth. Dairy is an affordable addition to the lunch box - 3 servings of dairy per day costs on average €0.65 while providing a range of nutrients to contribute to daily needs. (2) The Department of Health’s recommendations for healthy eating includes 3 servings from the “milk, yogurt and cheese” food group for those aged 5 years and up; with 5 servings recommended for 9-18-year-olds due to the importance of calcium during this life stage. Calcium is needed for normal growth and development of bones in children.

Aisling’s Top tips for feeding the family well on a budget

1. Eat with the seasons:

Not only will your fruit and vegetables taste better and be cheaper, but they are also more nutrient dense. The supermarkets usually have special, super-saver deals on the seasonal fruit each week, so keep an eye out for these.

2. Meal Planning & Batch Cooking:

Some of my favourite recipes to include in my meal planning and weekend preparation include hummus, pesto, creamy vegetable soup, a batch of roast Mediterranean vegetables, brown bread, and some smoothie bags in the freezer.

3. Cook One, Eat Twice. Batch Cook and get creative with leftovers.

4. Embrace a Flexitarian Way of Eating

Stretch your food and enjoy more fruit, vegetables, dairy, and whole-grain carbohydrates. Why not give Meatless Mondays or Flexitarian Fridays a go to start? Enjoy meals without meat by using more dairy, more lean plant-based proteins.

5. Put modern twists on some classic dishes:

To a Mac and Cheese, add a little chorizo and cheddar breadcrumb. Add a tin of drained butterbeans to a creamy chicken pesto pasta dish.

6. Sign up for supermarket apps

And get notifications of upcoming super-saver deals and special offers before hitting the supermarket. This way, you can plan your meals based on seasonality, what you have in the pantry and the specific special offers depending on where you shop.

For further information on nutrition and recipe ideas please visit