Lunchbox Ideas

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Making an interesting and nutritious packed lunch every day for your child can be a difficult task. But don’t resort to pre-prepared lunchbox foods, sweets and crisps! Packing a healthy lunch for your child is vital to make sure they get the right energy and nutrients they need for lunchtime play and afternoon lessons.

Some five million children's lunchboxes are prepared in British homes every weekday, yet a Food Standards Agency survey revealed that 3 out of 4 of these were likely to contain foods that were too high in saturated fat, salt or sugar. The same survey indicated that almost half of these lunches failed to include any fruit. Most, however, did include crisps, chocolate, biscuits, sugary drinks and other heavily processed snacks.

A diet that's high in fat, high in salt, and high in refined carbohydrates diminishes mental alertness, so a child eating these kinds of foods is likely to end up tired towards the end of the day. Also, a diet high in saturated fat and salt can lay the foundations for heart disease and high blood pressure later in life. Excess fat and refined carbohydrates may also lead to obesity.

Lunch Plan

One of the difficulties with the daily task of making a packed lunch can be finding the inspiration about how to offer variety whilst still keeping it healthy. Variety underlies any healthy diet so try to vary the contents of the lunchbox any chance you get! Here is a week of lunch ideas from the British Heart Foundation.


Pita bread stuffed with chicken and tomato slices. Egg and cress sandwich on whole meal bread Granary roll with hummus, lettuce, tomato and cucumber Tuna and sweet corn pasta salad with red peppers Homemade mini pizza rounds
Tinned peaches in juice with low fat custard. Chopped tomato & cucumber. Reduced fat fromage frais. Plain popcorn. Pear. Low fat yogurt. Currant bun. 2 Satsumas. Low fat fruit yoghurt. Small handful of dried apricots. Tzatziki with sticks of red pepper.
Water Orange Juice Water Pineapple Juice Apple Juice


Try Something Different!

On cold days, try some soup in a flask, with some wholemeal or granary bread. If you have time, make your own soup - tomato, chicken and sweetcorn, and vegetable soup are healthy options that are quick and easy to make. You could add lentils to thicken the soup but try to avoid adding salt. If you buy soup, try to choose varieties that are low in salt.

In the summer, salads are light and refreshing and full of essential vitamins and minerals. Try to include a variety of different salad vegetables - for example grated carrot, spinach, tomato and spring onion. You could also sprinkle an assortment of seeds over the salad (sunflower, pumpkin, sesame and pine nuts) or dried fruit.

Make a rice salad using cooked brown rice and lentils - you could add pepper slices, chopped spring onions and pieces of cooked turkey or chicken. Pasta salads are also a good option. Try mixing cooked pasta with tuna, or chicken, sweet corn, cherry tomato and spinach leaves.

Why not make a pizza together for an evening meal and save some for the next day's lunchbox? On the pizza base, put a tomato and basil paste, cheese and plenty of chopped vegetables - peppers, onion, mushrooms. You could also make a mini pizza using a whole meal muffin cut in half and topped with vegetables or ham. Toast this under a grill for a couple of minutes for a fun and different snack.

Healthy Lunchbox Tips

Always include bread (or a pasta or rice salad) - but don't forget that instead of sliced bread you could use wraps, ciabatta, rolls, pita breads, bagels, breadsticks, crackers and baps.  Try to use wholegrain or granary bread, which will provide fibre and help your child feel fuller for longer. If your children aren't used to wholegrain bread, use softgrain bread initially, and gradually switch over to wholegrain bread.

An apple or orange everyday can soon become boring, so include a variety of fruit. Whole fruit may not be that appealing to youngsters, so try cutting fruit into chunks and threading it onto skewers or thin straws. Choose fruits that are in season as this will be better value for money. Include a pot of fruit salad as change to a whole fruit. Try some dried fruit such as raisins, sultanas, mango or apricots.

Saying a product is made with 'real fruit' gives it a healthy spin. But take a closer look at the label and you may find that they contain as much as a whopping 63 per cent sugar! Manufacturers might claim that they are 'a great fun way to enjoy a healthy and nutritious diet' but a dentist might disagree.

Pure fruit juice contains 100 per cent fruit juice as you would expect. However a 'fruit juice drink' can contain as little as 6 per cent juice. Many so-called 'juice drinks' are really only juice-flavoured sugary water and contain more water and sugar than actual fruit juice. They may also include artificial flavourings, sweeteners and colourings which can effect behaviour.

For sandwich fillings, include ham, turkey, chicken, tuna, egg, humus, banana, peanut butter or cheese. Add plenty of salad, but avoid too much mayonnaise, salad cream or coleslaw as these are high in fat.

Lunchbox Dos and Don'ts

There are lots of foods that are marketed as 'healthy' and 'ideal for lunch boxes' that are neither. Here are some to avoid:

Cereal bars: many cereal bars contain more than 40 per cent sugar and 30 per cent fat. While sugar eaten in a bowl of cereal tends to get washed away by the milk, in sticky cereal bars, sugar sticks to the teeth causing maximum damage.

Flavoured yoghurt: the once-healthy yoghurt now often comes attached to a pack of confectionery to stir in. Some of these contain more than five teaspoons of sugar in each pot.

  Savoury snacks: cheese strings and similar foods tend to be highly processed and may contain high levels of saturated fat and salt. One single snack can contain almost as much salt as a young child should have in an entire day.

Vegetables can be sneaked into the lunchbox in many forms - add a bag of carrot sticks or baby tomatoes, grate carrot and use in sandwich fillings or add sweet corn to tuna. Try to include a piece of fresh fruit, carton of fruit juice, dried fruit, or even a bottle of fruit smoothie as much as possible to help your child get their “5 a day”.

For a dessert include milk-based puddings such as yoghurt, fromage frais, a small pot of custard or mousse, yoghurt drinks and milkshakes, all of which are excellent sources of calcium.

To drink add bottled water, milk, sugar free squash or 100% fruit juices to school lunch boxes. However, fruit juices should be limited to meal times due to their high sugar content. Try diluting fruit juice to 2 parts water to one part juice to reduce the sugar content. Squashes should be diluted to 1 part juice to at least 8 parts water. Fizzy drinks “diet” or otherwise are not suitable for children under 5.