A healthy lunchbox is important for active children. When children eat well, they have more energy and learn better as they are able to listen and concentrate for longer 1, 2.
A healthy lunchbox will look different for different children…after all, each child has varying nutritional requirements and their own individual taste and food preferences! With this being said, there are a few lunchbox must-haves that parents should keep in mind when planning their child’s lunch and snacks.
Our in-house dietitian shares six tips for creating a healthy, balanced and tasty lunchbox.
High fibre, wholegrain carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are a major energy source for the brain and body 2.
Wholegrain carbohydrates are higher in fibre than refined carbohydrates, so will help to sustain your child’s energy levels.
Food sources of wholegrain carbohydrates include multigrain breads, wraps and pastas, and seeded crackers and crispbreads.
If your child only eats white bread, simply opt for a high fibre variety.
Alternatively, slowly transition your child to wholegrain bread by making their sandwiches with one slice of white bread and one slice of wholegrain (brown) bread.
Protein is an important component of a child’s lunchbox because it helps to keep them feeling full and satisfied 2.
Protein-rich foods also help to provide other important nutrients such as iron, magnesium and B-vitamins.
Protein can be found in foods of animal origin such as beef, chicken, turkey, lean ham, tuna, eggs and yogurt.
It can also be found in plant foods such as chickpeas, beans, legumes, tofu, tempeh and edamame.
Adding protein to your child’s lunch box can be relatively simple.
Try adding a lean meat to their sandwich, hard boiling some eggs or adding things such as yogurt pouches or homemade bliss balls such as our Brownie Bliss Ball recipe for a snack.
Fruits (and vegetables) are an important part of your child’s lunchbox as they contain fibre and important vitamins and minerals that help to keep them healthy 3.
Fruit in the lunchbox doesn’t have to be whole fruit like the traditional banana or apple.
It can be cut up, frozen, dried or canned. Try alternating fresh fruit with dried or packaged fruit such as sultanas or peaches in natural juice.
Frozen grapes and melon balls make a great lunchbox addition in the warmer months too. Aim to include one to two pieces of fruit in their lunchbox per day.
Tip: Get your children involved in packing their lunch box and ask them what fruit they would like packed each day! This also helps for picky eaters...
Vegetables, legumes and beans
Much like fruit, vegetables, legumes and beans are a fantastic source of fibre and essential vitamins and minerals, all of which help to protect against disease 3,4.
Legumes in particular are a great choice for younger children as they help to meet their increased needs for iron, zinc and protein 4.
Try snack sized vegetable pieces such as cherry tomatoes, snow peas, carrot sticks or baby corn spears. Baked beans, hummus, and roasted chickpeas also make great choices.
Dairy or calcium-fortified dairy alternatives
Dairy products are an important part of a child’s diet 1,2,5. They are a good source of energy and protein and contain a wide range of essential vitamins and minerals, including calcium, which is important for building healthy teeth and bones 2,5.
Unsweetened calcium-fortified dairy alternatives such as soy milk, yogurt and cheese also count here and can make good alternatives to dairy products if your child has an allergy 5. Aim to include one serve of dairy in your child’s lunch box each day. Think yogurt tubs, cheese sticks and milk.
Struggling to add a dairy or calcium-fortified dairy alternative to your child’s lunch box? Try at breakfast time instead with this Wild Strawberry Breakfast Smoothie.
The body loses water through normal processes such as breathing, sweating and digestion, so it’s important that your child re-hydrates by drinking fluids that contain water 6. Aim to include a bottle of water in your child’s lunchbox every day.
Better yet, put a frozen bottle of water (that will melt into a cool drink) in their lunchbox to help keep their food cool. If you struggle to get your child to drink water, try to make it more interesting by flavouring it with fruit or putting it in a fun water bottle.
Sugar sweetened drinks such as fruit juice, cordial and soft drink should be kept out of the lunchbox and limited to every other day if on the menu.
- Victoria State Government Better Health Channel. (2011). Healthy lunchboxes. Retrieved from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/lunch-box-tips
- Nutrition Australia. Packing a school lunchbox. Retrieved from https://www.nutritionaustralia.org/national/resource/packing-school-lunchbox
- Victoria State Government Better Health Channel. (2011). Fruit and vegetables. Retrieved from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/fruit-and-vegetables
- The Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council. (2013). Grain Foods and Legumes – an update on changed to the Australian Dietary Guidelines. Retrieved from https://www.glnc.org.au/grains/recommended-amounts/legumes-recommendations/
- National Health Service. (2018). Dairy and alternatives in your diet. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/milk-and-dairy-nutrition/
- Healthy Eating Advisory Service. Healthy lunchboxes. Retrieved from https://heas.health.vic.gov.au/schools/healthy-lunchboxes