Lunchtime makes up a little less than a third of a child’s daily energy needs, making it an important pit stop for refuelling their bodies and minds for the busy afternoon ahead. A child who eats a healthy and balanced lunch will focus more on afternoon lessons at school, have less pre-dinner meltdowns, and feel more energised throughout the day. Hurrah all around!
Just like any main meal a lunchbox should be well-balanced and nutritious. We want to aim to largely serve up whole natural foods that are as minimally processed as possible, as these foods are full of nutrients (e.g. vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants) that contribute to balanced energy levels, improved concentration, and overall good health.
On the flip side, we want to aim to minimise foods that are refined and overly processed. These types of foods are often lower in nutrients, can be high in sugar and salt, and may contribute to highs and lows in energy levels, including poor concentration and focus.
When building a lunchbox include:
1x main lunch item: this typically provides the bulk of energy in a child’s lunchbox and helps power them through the day. It should be nutrient-dense and filling. This might include:
A whole grain sandwich/wrap/pita with a savoury filling
Leftover dinner from the night before
Tinned fish with crackers
Thermos with a chunky soup
Veggie-packed pasta salad
1-2x pieces of fruit: nature’s sweet source of energy, packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and dietary fibre. The lunchbox is a great place to include fruit! Help out little hands by chopping up fruits that are harder to eat whole, such as oranges with thick peel. Popular fruits include:
2-3x nutritious snacks: snacks add diversity and excitement to a lunch box, and are a great source of energy and nourishment for a child. It can be easy to load up on processed foods for a lunchbox, as they’re often cheap and children enjoy them, but they may not provide much nutrition and are often higher in sugar - aim to reduce highly processed commercial options.
Healthy snack ideas include:
Pottle of yoghurt (plain or fruit – be mindful of sugar content)
Wholegrain crackers and cheese slices (Edam, Colby, Tasty)
Veggie sticks – carrots, cucumber (you could add a little pottle of hummus to dip alongside!)…
Homemade baking (sometimes treat)
1x drink bottle of water: water is the ultimate choice of fluid when it comes to hydration. If you’re adding food items to a lunchbox that need to remain cold (e.g. yoghurt) freeze a drink bottle the night before to use as an ice pack.
Sandwich filling ideas:
While kids can often be creatures of habits, it’s always great to switch things up. Here are some sandwich filling ideas:
Marmite and sliced avocado
Avocado and grated carrot
Hummus and crunchy sprouts
Champagne ham and salad
Tuna, hummus and tomato
Creamed corn and grated cheese
Hard boiled egg mashed with mayonnaise
Cucumber, grated carrot and cream cheese
Chicken and coleslaw
Marmite, cheese and lettuce
Lettuce and shredded chicken mixed with mayonnaise
Tomato, cheese and lettuce sandwiches (put the tomato between the cheese to stop bread going soggy)
Tinned fish tossed with mayonnaise and served with lettuce and sliced cucumber
Banana and peanut butter sandwiches (keep in mind some schools have nut bans in place)
Nut or seed butter and honey
Nut or seed butter and chia jam…
…try making it with the kiddies!
This recipe for chia jam is as fabulously simple as it is tasty. It'll take you less than five minutes to whip up, and is a low sugar alternative to traditional jam. But we love it as it’s fun to make with the kids!
Homemade chia jam: add to a stovetop 1 cup fresh/frozen fruit, 1 Tbsp maple syrup/honey and 3 Tbsp water. Stir over a low heat, until the mixture starts gently bubbling. Take off the heat and gently mash mixture together with a potato masher (mash it less if you want a pulpy jam). Add in chia seeds and stir well. Leave for a few minutes as the jam begins to "set" (or rather the chia seeds begin to swell up and form a thick mixture). Place jam into a jam jar and store in fridge - it will last for a few days. Recipe from our Nutritionists Danijela’s blog.
Ideas for getting vegetables in the lunchbox:
When it comes to veggies, the more the merrier! Here are some ideas for getting more in the lunchbox.
Cherry tomatoes – pop in with a cube, slice or wedge of cheese
Cheese and corn muffins
Mini veggie quiches – make in muffin pan
Celery stick with peanut butter
Corn on the cob – cut in quarters. You can eat corn both fresh or cooked!
Carrot or capsicum sticks – on their own or with hummus
Snow or sugar snap peas
Sushi filled with sliced veggies and cream cheese
Ham and vegetable frittata
Favourite lunchbox recipe from the FFN recipe blog and beyond:
Here are some ideas for homemade lunchbox recipes - get the kiddies helping out with the prep if you can!
This blog was written especially for our friends at Westpac NZ, who we’re excited to be assisting with their workplace wellbeing this year. It’s thrilling to see a company go the extra mile for their staff!
Top image credit: lunchbox inc.