Tips for Packing Your Kids a Healthy Lunchbox

Our top tips for how to pack a healthy kid’s lunchbox, for parents on the go.

While most of us like to think we spend hours lovingly preparing homemade, nutritionally impeccable lunches for our children, in reality, most of us chuck a random selection of things we think are healthy into our child’s lunchbox five minutes before we head out the door and hope for the best. 
Accredited practising dietitian Rosalyn D’Angelo shares her top tips for packing a healthy lunchbox. 

Sandwiches 

When you’re in a rush it can be tempting to slather butter on two soft pillows of fresh white bread and stuff them full of ham and cheese. Unfortunately ham and cheese sandwiches are often full of saturated fat and salt.

Instead, pack sandwiches full of salad vegetables – spinach or lettuce leaves, grated carrot, cucumber and so on, with some quality protein such as hard-boiled egg, turkey, tuna or leftover roast chicken.

“Try and limit or avoid salty and processed meats like salami, bacon, pastrami and ham, and add flavour with avocado or hummus instead of mayo and butter.”

White versus brown bread… While we all know that wholegrain bread offers greater nutritional benefits than white, some kids (and adults) are fussy about the bread they eat.

D’Angelo says, “If they’re only going to eat white bread, don’t despair. Just try and choose a high-fibre white bread.”

Pack sandwiches full of salad vegetables – spinach or lettuce leaves, grated carrot, cucumber and so on, with some quality protein such as hard-boiled egg, turkey, tuna or leftover roast chicken.

“Not another sandwich!” 

If your child is sick of sandwiches, try wraps, English muffins or rolls to break the monotony, or you can pack leftovers (stored in a cold lunch box).

Cooked frittatas and quiches can also make good alternatives, and can go straight from your fridge or freezer to their lunchbox.

Just give the instant noodles a wide berth! “These are highly processed foods; you’re much better off giving them some fresh noodles from, say, a leftover stir-fry,” says D’Angelo.

What about those fruit bars?

Put down that fruit bar and reach for a good old fashioned piece of fruit such as an apple, an orange, a kiwi or a banana instead.  


“A piece of fruit contains vitamins, minerals and fibre – all the things that help keep our digestive system healthy and leave us feeling fuller for longer. 


“There’s also no hidden sugar or additives in a piece of fruit, whereas most packaged fruit items contain some sort of additive to extend their shelf life and make them taste good. 


“Also, just because it’s called a fruit bar doesn’t mean you are guaranteed that a high percentage of it is real fruit – and some bars can have as much sugar as a chocolate bar.”
girls eating fruit kebabs

Drink up

Water should be the drink of choice for your child, says D’Angelo. In summer, you can freeze their water bottles, which also helps keep their food fresh and cool.

Try and limit the amount of fruit juice you give your kids. With fruit juice “you’re getting the sugar from three to four oranges in one glass of juice which can sometimes be the same amount of sugar as soda.” Fruit drinks and juices can also increase the risk of tooth decay.

If your child is going to have juice, D’Angelo recommends they drink mainly vegetable juices with a small amount of fruit juice added, or fruit juice diluted with water.

“If your child’s diet is generally low in sugar then a bit of fruit juice is not going to hurt – just make sure that juice doesn’t replace the opportunity to eat a piece of fruit or other foods that offer greater nutritional value. It’s more about how much sugar they are getting in their overall diet.”

Cereal bars

Cereal bars are often disguised in healthy-looking packaging but you might be shocked to learn some of them are high in salt, sugar and fat.

This doesn’t mean they can’t be a great addition to a lunchbox, it just means you need to read the nutritional label and pick a healthier product.

“Look for wholegrains, and fibre. Compare products by looking at the per 100g column on the label – 6 grams per 100g is a good source of fibre. Also compare the amount of sugar – but bear in mind that some fruit bars feature dried fruit, which may increase the sugar content.”

And, finally, “Look for bars that also have less than 120mg of salt per 100g.”

Yoghurts

Yoghurt is a really good source of calcium but it can sometimes be high in sugar.

“It is important to find a yoghurt that your child likes, so find a few brands and then compare their labels to find the one with the lowest sugar.”

Which brings us to an important point… you can pack the healthiest lunchbox in the world, but if your child won’t eat it you’re in trouble and they’re likely to go hungry.

Work with them to find healthier versions of the foods that they like and then stock the fridge and pantry with them so you can grab them on the go to make a healthy lunchbox.

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