Basics of a healthy lunchbox
Preparing a school lunch can be a bit of a chore and after five days of making lunches they can sometimes turn out boring, bland and not very healthy.
Around a third of a kid’s daily food intake is usually consumed at school so it is important that we provide food that contains a good balance of nutrients and energy.
Kids don’t tend to see healthy food as fun, so it’s key to make the ‘good foods’ exciting, tasty, and with a touch of difference each day.
Here are some great ideas and tips to provide a combination of everyday foods, good snacks and occasional treats.
Kids don't tend to see healthy food as fun, so it's key to make the 'good foods' exciting
Everyday foods such as dairy, fruit, vegetables, breads and cereals, meat and other protein sources provide the much-needed nutrients for energy and growth. Choose a variety of items from these food groups to go in the lunchbox each day.
- Dairy products such as cheese or cottage cheese in sandwiches, cheese sticks, a small carton of milk, fruit smoothie or yoghurt.
- Tip: Add an ice pack to the lunchbox or chiller bag to help keep everything cold.
- Fresh fruit and vegetables such as apples, bananas, nectarines, fruit salad, grapes, strawberries, carrots, celery and/or cherry tomatoes.
Sandwiches made with wholemeal bread and lean meats; leftover meat is great or canned tuna/chicken. Some vegetarian fillings such as egg, baked beans or peanut butter are also a tasty source of protein.
See our ideas on alternatives to sandwiches
- Water is the best drink to quench thirst, and reduced fat milk is also an ideal everyday choice to provide essential nutrients such as calcium to support growing bones.
Snacks for mid-morning and afternoon tea are a great way to help fuel our kids’ brains for learning, play and concentration throughout the day.
- Fruit slices, frozen berries or peas, plain popcorn, nuts and dried fruit, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, cucumber sticks, cheese sticks, vegetable sticks and a healthy dip (e.g. hummus, salsa, guacamole), hard boiled eggs, or yoghurt. Wholemeal pikelets and fruit bread are also great to fill up the tummies.
- Small, hard foods such as whole nuts and dried fruit and small round foods such as frozen peas should not be given to children under the age of 5 due to choking risk. For more information, see food and nutrition guidelines from the Ministry of Health.
Kids love treats and would love to eat them every day, but limiting treats encourages healthy habits and allows parents to surprise and reward their kids with something exciting in the lunchbox. Try involving your kids when preparing their special weekly treat – if they’ve been good, maybe let them pick their special treat for the week.
Baked treats are a great way to sneak in veggies, fruit and a bit of dairy; this can also allow you to reduce the amount of added sugar in your recipes.
- Crackers or wholegrain crackers are often a staple in the lunchbox, but some crackers are high in fat and salt. Look at the label and choose one with 10g or less of total fat per 100g and less than 200mg sodium per serve.
- Muesli bars are another favourite, but they shouldn’t be eaten every day. Look for bars with energy of less than 600kJ per serve and at least one gram of fibre per serve (these are likely to be the ones with minimal chocolate coating.)
- Try sparkling water as an alternative to plain water. Fruit juice can also be enjoyed sometimes – just make sure no more than one glass a day and ideally dilute it at least 50/50 with water. Bear in mind it’s preferable to eat fresh fruit, rather than fruit juice where possible.