Lunch makes up a little less than a third of a child’s
(or adults!) daily energy needs, making it an important pit stop for them to refuel 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, will have less pre-dinner meltdowns, and feel more energised throughout the rest of the day.
Just like any main meal a lunchbox should be well-balanced and nutritious.
Aim to largely serve: whole natural foods of foods that are as minimally processed as possible. These foods are full of nourishment (vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants) and will contribute to balanced energy levels, improved concentration, and overall good health.
Aim to minimise: refined processed commercial foods. These types of foods are often low in nutrients, can be high in sugar, and may contribute to highs and lows in energy levels, uneven mood-swings, and poor concentration.
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
1-2 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:
2-3 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 high in sugar - aim to reduce highly processed commercial foods
Healthy and nutritious snack ideas include:
Pottle of yoghurt (plain or fruit – be mindful of sugar content)
Wholegrain crackers and cheese slices (Edam, Colby, Tasty)
Small handful of nuts and/or seeds
Dried fruit (3-5 pieces)
Veggie sticks – carrots, cucumber (you could add a little pottle of hummus to dip alongside!)
Homemade baking (sometimes treat)
1 drink bottle of water: water is the ultimate choice of fluid when it comes to hydration and good health! 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:
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 with lettuce
Banana and peanut butter sandwiches (keep in mind some schools have nut butter bans in place)
Peanut butter and honey (Phoebes fav!)
Ideas for getting vegetables 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
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
Plan lunch boxes together – children love to have a say, and having a sense of control over what they’re eating will help give them ownership of their lunchbox.
If you’re child is a snacker instead of providing a main lunch item try out a ‘snack/style lunch box’ containing a variety of nutritious snacks.
Consider the weather for example you could serve a thermos with hot soup of a cold day
Be food safe - bugs can grow quickly in lunch boxes, especially in summer. Use an insulated lunch box where possible, pack perishable foods (e.g. cold meat and egg sandwich between cold items lie yoghurt), and clean lunchbox with hot soapy water at the end of the day!
Consider the bread used. Wholegrain options are more nutritious and higher in fibre that white and wheatmeal, which will contribute to sustained energy. A child may initially reject grainier bread at first, if they are used to white or wheatmeal, but with persistence taste buds will adapt.
Get a lunchbox that you love! No one wants to eat from a ratty container, or plastic bag :)
Thanks from the team at Feel Fresh Nutrition!
Top image credit: lunchbox inc.