Great ideas for Healthy Lunch Boxes

For many years our students have been using plastic lunch box and drink bottles at school. Always looking for great ideas for preparing and packing healthy foods, we have taken some photos of great lunch boxes. Children bring their food in their school bag. They start with a fruit and vegie snack at 10.00am.  They eat while they work.  They hydrate using their drink bottle at anytime during the day.  At recess (11.00 am) they can take something outside to eat just before they play.  At recess, food is taken out of its wrapper which is put straight back in the student’s lunchbox.

Snacks like muesli bars and crackers are sent to school in a container, without wrapping. Students only take their lunchboxes outside with them if needed, and put them in a tub that sits outside their classroom when they have finished. Around 12.30 pm some children have another piece of fruit or snack while they work before their lunch eating time commencing 1.30 pm - 1.40 pm. At lunch, students who have not finished when the bell goes take their lunchboxes out with them and put them in their class tub when they have finished.  The class usually eat inside for this 10 minutes before going out for 'big play'.

School lunch-box ideas

In most schools, children can choose to get their lunch from the school tuckshop or bring their own lunch from home. Thanks to recent concerted efforts by parents, the food in some tuckshops is now much more nutritious. Still, it is probably cheaper and healthier to send your child to school with his own lunch box stuffed with good things.

Sandwich ideas

If your child's lunch is returning home uneaten, it may be that he doesn't have time to eat his food before his friends want to play. Try cutting the sandwich into quarters, rather than halves, so he can at least finish some lunch before play begins.

Here are suggestions for a wholegrain-bread sandwich (or you can use pita bread, a baguette or rice cakes):

  • cheese, lettuce and chutney
  • Swiss cheese and sliced gherkin (pickled cucumber)
  • cottage cheese or ricotta and dates
  • brie cheese and cranberry sauce
  • pita bread pockets, roll-ups or Turkish bread with lean meat or falafel and salad
  • curried egg or mashed boiled egg and lettuce
  • chicken, mayonnaise and celery

Fruit

A piece of fruit added to the lunch box is a good idea. You can peel and cut a kiwi fruit and put it in a separate container. If your child doesn't have time to eat a whole apple during lunch, quarter it and squeeze some lemon juice over to prevent browning by lunch time. Bananas come in their own easy-to-peel packaging.

Drink

Your child gets thirsty running around the playground. The best thirst quencher is plain water.

More lunch box ideas

  • A drinking straw skewered with cubes of cheese and cherry tomatoes (or strawberries if they are in season and not so expensive)
  • Carrot and celery sticks with hummus dip (put hummus in a separate container so your child can dip into it)   

It is helpful if food is packed into separate containers for each occasion. For example, a small box of cut fruit pieces for the morning fruit break, another small box of wheat crackers and low fat cheese slices for play lunch, and a larger box with sandwiches, fruit, etc for lunch time. Water is the best drink for children all day at school.

There are plenty of websites with great lunchbox ideas to help parents prepare interesting and tasty lunches for their children. Take a look at the following

What food to pack?

The common white-bread sandwich isn't the only lunch-box option. Here are some variations:

  • a wholegrain-bread sandwich with a cheese and grated carrot filling contains calcium, grains and vegetables
  • pita bread pockets, roll-ups or Turkish bread with lean meat or falafel and salad
  • dips such as hummus for dunking into with pita or crackers and vegetable sticks      

If your child refuses anything but white bread, try one of the new low-GI loaves on the market to keep her from getting hungry again too quickly after lunch.

Sandwich fillings can be quite adventurous. You might like to try adding grated carrot or beetroot, sliced red cabbage, raisins or sultanas, sliced apple or fresh herbs to liven things up. Here are a few tasty sandwich combinations:

  • tasty cheese, pineapple (drain and pat dry with kitchen paper) and lettuce
  • tasty cheese and chutney
  • Swiss cheese and sliced gherkin (pickled cucumber)
  • cottage cheese or ricotta and chives
  • cottage cheese or ricotta and dates
  • brie and cranberry sauce
  • curried egg or mashed boiled egg and lettuce
  • mashed egg and chives, dill or parsley
  • apple and raisin
  • chicken (make sure this is well cooked and fresh), mayo and celery
  • chicken, pesto and red capsicum
  • avocado (squeeze on some lemon juice to stop it going brown), tomato (remove seeds to stop bread going soggy) and coriander
  • canned tuna, stuffed green olives, tomato (remove seeds), boiled egg and lettuce (some mashed anchovy is a nice addition if your child likes it).

Luncheon meats such as salami, mortadella, Strasburg, smoked turkey, pastrami and ham are highly processed, salty and can be fatty and have added chemicals such as nitrates that aren’t very healthy. So you might want to save these for every now and then, rather than packing them every day.

Potato salad, chickpea salad, tabbouleh and leftover pizza, as well as rice and noodle dishes that can be eaten cold, are other good lunch options. Seasoned and baked tofu (available ready-made) is often a big hit with kids and a tasty alternative to meat.

There are plenty of healthy snack options too. Fresh fruit, stewed fruit in natural juice, dried fruit, yoghurt, pieces of cheese, fruit bread, rice cakes, pikelets and crackers all make nutritious snacks. If you limit sweet snacks (e.g. chocolate, lollies and muesli bars) as well as salty, fatty ones (e.g. packets of chips), which are all low in nutrients but high in calories, there’s a greater chance your child will eat the healthy food you want her to eat. Save these ‘treats’ for special occasions.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that kids usually want to eat quickly so that they can go and play. So try to make sandwiches and other food easy to eat and don’t make servings too large. Cut bread into thin slices and cut sandwiches into quarters to make them easier to manage. And don’t overdo the amount of sandwich filling. Soggy and drippy sandwiches can be avoided if you keep spreads to a minimum and remove seeds from tomatoes. In general, anything that is messy to eat will be off-putting to your child, so consider draining juices from fruit and anything else that contains liquid, such as vegetable stew or tagine.

Also, make sure that containers seal well but can be opened easily by your child – do a test at home. It may be that your child is not eating her lunch because she can’t get to it!

Most kids love fruit and it’s a great addition to any lunch box. Go for small fruits such as berries and apricots or cut larger fruits into pieces that your child can eat easily and quickly.

Check if water is available at the child care centre, kinder or school. If not, provide some bottled water, added frozen to the lunch box. Fruit juice, preferably diluted with water, can also be included – but only occasionally as it can lead to tooth decay and a host of other problems.

Keeping food fresh and safe

Before preparing your child’s lunch box, always wash your hands well with warm soapy water and make sure all chopping boards and utensils are clean and dry.

Any lunch box containing meat, fish, chicken, eggs, noodles, rice, pasta, custard, yoghurt, cheese or milk needs to be kept cold to stop harmful bacteria multiplying, otherwise your child may become sick.

If you make her lunch the night before, keep it in the fridge (below 5°C) overnight. In the morning, add a frozen drink (preferably water) to the lunch box to keep it cool until lunch time.

Waxed paper can be a better option for wrapping than plastic, as it’s easier for children to manage (and less polluting). An insulated lunch box is also a good idea, as it will keep the food inside nice and cool. A thermos will keep foods such as soup and pasta hot.

Go For Your Life 'Healthy Lunch Boxes' article