Practical tips for you and your children on how to prepare a healthy lunchbox
Good food habits set early in childhood can last a lifetime. Lunches provide around one third of our daily nutritional needs, so it’s important to put some thought and planning into them.
Healthy eating policies
Schools recognise that children who eat a nutritious lunch in school are better able to concentrate and learn in the classroom. For this reason most schools discourage foods such as chocolate, sweets and crisps. Many have policies to support families to make better choices when planning and preparing school lunches. Ask your school if they have a policy.
Please note that your child’s school may have a policy relating to food allergies, which does not permit particular food items to be brought to school.
Here are some tips on how to prepare a healthy lunchbox that your child will eat and enjoy.
How to keep your lunchboxes interesting
- Vary the types of bread, for example, pitta bread, bagels, wholemeal rolls – keep a stock in the freezer
- Cook extra rice or pasta in the evening – these can make great salads
- Try a pasta salad or filled tortillas
- Fluids are important for children – up to 6 cups of fluid should be encouraged daily. Milk and plain water are the best options. Brightly coloured bottles can make plain water more interesting!
- Get your child involved in packing lunches. Let them help choose some element of their lunch. Pick a colourful lunchbox or let them decorate one with stickers
- Children often need to see and taste new foods several times before they accept them, so try out new ideas at teatime or the weekend before including them in a lunchbox
This 5-day lunchbox plan will help you get started.
Remember that sandwiches containing meat or other foods that require refrigeration should be kept as cold as possible until lunch. Read more about food safety and school lunchboxes here.
Include a wide variety of foods – fruit and vegetables, starchy foods, protein and dairy
Vegetables, salad and fruit
At least one portion from the fruit and vegetables food group…
- 1 medium apple, orange, banana, pear or similar size fruit
- 2 small fruits – plums, kiwis, mandarins or similar size fruit
- A small glass (150ml) of unsweetened fruit juice
- Half a tin (3 tablespoons or 4 dessertspoons) of fruit in its own juice
- 1 small bunch of grapes (10 grapes)
- 1 small salad (for example, dessert bowl sized salad of lettuce, tomato, cucumber and celery sticks)
- 3 tablespoons or 4 dessertspoons of vegetables (for example, chopped or grated carrots)
- A bowl of homemade vegetable soup in a thermos flask for older children
- A small pot of fruit salad
- A small salad box
To avoid soggy sandwiches put juicy vegetables between some lettuce and other sandwich fillings for example, cheese. For younger children cutting fruit into manageable size chunks will encourage them to eat more fruit.
Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and nuts
One portion from the meat and meat alternatives food group…
- 2 slices (50–75g) of cooked meat
- 1–2 eggs (hard-boiled, sliced or mashed)
- A small can (100g) of tuna, salmon, mackerel or sardines
- 4 tablespoons of hummus - try out as a dip with carrots or celery
Note: Fish such as tinned tuna or salmon should be included in the lunchbox at least once a week – remove any bones
Lean cuts of meat such as chicken breast are lower in salt than processed meats such as ham and bacon. Choose lean meat more often than processed meat.
Wholemeal cereals and breads, potatoes, pasta and rice
One portion from the bread and cereals group which would be...
- 2 thin slices of wholemeal bread
- 1 small wholemeal bread roll
- 1 wholemeal tortilla wrap
- 1 wholemeal pitta bread
- 4–6 wholemeal crackers or breadsticks
- 1 cup of cooked brown rice, pasta or couscous
- 1 small wholemeal bagel
Including wholegrain varieties of breads and cereals in our diet can help us feel fuller for longer and prevent constipation.
Milk, yoghurt and cheese
One portion from the dairy products food group…
- 1 glass or mini-carton of milk (200ml)
- A pot of natural or low-fat yoghurt (125ml)
- 2 cheese triangles
- 2 thumbs (25g) of cheese such as cheddar, edam or gouda varieties
Note: Low-fat dairy products are suitable for children over two years of age.
Dairy products are especially important in the diets of children and teenagers as they provide calcium to support growing bones and teeth. Low-fat natural yoghurt with fruit is the best option.
It is important that children take in enough fluids during the day. If they do not drink enough, they may become dehydrated, thirsty, tired and weak.
Drinks should always be included for break-time and lunch. Plain water and milk are the most suitable drinks for children. More about suitable drinks for children