Starchy foods should make up a third of your child’s lunchbox. They are a good source of energy and contain fibre, calcium, iron and B vitamins. Starchy foods include:
Bread – Wholemeal and seeded bread are all healthier options than white bread- providing more nutritious value. If you’re trying to mix things up then why not try bagels, pitta bread, wraps or baguettes as an alternative. Wholemeal crackers and breadsticks also make great finger food and can be dipped or spread with other ingredients.
Rice – Tabbouleh, cous cous or rice salads can be served cold and stored in lunchboxes. Grains also make up cereal, and cereal bars (keep an eye on salt and sugar levels) or homemade flapjacks can be a good lunchtime addition.
Potatoes – Cheese and potato whirls (a mixture of mashed potato, cheese, onion and parsley wrapped in puff pastry), potato salad or potato cakes can all be made in advance and work well in lunchboxes.
Pasta – Wholewheat or wholegrain pasta is healthier and contains more fibre which helps kids feel fuller for longer. Pasta salads can be mixed with many other ingredients, including tomato, cheese, chicken, tuna and more. If you have pasta for your evening meals, packing leftovers in a lunchbox the next day can be a great time saver.
Protein foods will also help keep your child feeling full for longer and contain important vitamins such as vitamin B6 and iron. Many protein foods make an excellent choice as fillings or toppings for rolls, pasta and other starchy foods. Protein foods include:
Meat- Wafer thin cooked meats, cubed chicken or turkey breast and leftover cold meats such as sausages or gammon are ideal for sandwiches or to accompany rice and pasta. Meat snacks such as cocktail sausages and mini pasties are also a quick and easy way to add protein to a lunchbox.
Fish- Oily fish is a great source of omega 3 and healthy fats which makes it a perfect solution to change up your child’s diet from time to time to provide a variety of nutrients and keep it exciting. Tuna fish is delicious in a pasta salad and anchovies and sardines make tasty additions to leafy salads. Salmon and cream cheese also goes well with crackers.
Eggs- Boiled egg with cress is a well-loved sandwich filler that packs in the protein. Egg-based foods such as quiches or frittatas are also rich in protein and offer the opportunity to be filled with healthy vegetables. They also make an easy evening meal for the family that are equally delicious served cold for lunch the next day.
Beans- Although high in protein and fibre, beans can sometimes get overlooked as too much hassle for packed lunches. Homemade veggie burgers are easy to make and can be frozen in batches ready to defrost and cook the night before. Soups and chili can also be cooked up the night before and offer a deliciously filling texture when beans are added. Or for a really quick addition, simply add beans to a salad for an effortless protein hit.
Full of calcium which we all know is important for growing bones, dairy foods make a healthy snack choice for your little one. Dairy foods include:
Yoghurts- Fromage frais, mousses and yoghurts are all simple choices to pack in a lunch box and provide a welcome sweet flavour which may eliminate the need for sweets or chocolates. Try buying variety packs or switch your flavour choice to whatever is on offer each week to keep your child interested.
Cheese- Another good source of protein that can be packed into a sandwich or used as a topping for pasta or potatoes, cheese is a popular choice for children. Cubed or pre-packed cheeses can also make tasty snacks for your little one to enjoy. Although there are lots of benefits to cheese, it can be quite high in saturated fat so make sure you’re using it as part of a varied diet.
Dips- Soft cheeses and yoghurt based dips have a creamy texture that your little one will love. Easy to eat (for those fussy about textures) dips are perfect to accompany crunchy vegetable sticks, contributing to your child’s 5 a day.
Fruit and vegetables
Full of fibre, vitamins and minerals, all know how important it is to get the right amount of fruit and vegetables in our little one’s diets. Although it can be a struggle to get your children to eat their greens, there are hundreds of flavours and textures to explore with them and there’s a good chance that you’ll find a couple that they really like. Fruit and vegetables include:
Fruit pots or bags – raisins, sultanas, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, dried apricots, dates or prunes can easily be added to a pot or bag to provide a variety of vitamins and minerals in one hit. Fruit salad pots containing strawberries, orange, melon, mango are also easy to make and a great way to sneak new fruits in for your little one to try. If they’re still in the pot when it comes home then try a different one next time.
Tinned fruits and fruit jellies – during the winter months when fresh fruit is more expensive or less readily available, consider tinned or fruit jellies that contain everything from mandarins, pineapple, pears or peaches.
Salad pots – raw vegetables such as cucumber, lettuce, pepper, celery, cherry tomatoes or carrot sticks help with getting the right amount of vegetables and work well with dips or soft cheeses. The different texture that raw vegetables have compared to cooked may even convert your child into a fan.
Top lunchbox packing tips
- Package food properly. Different sized containers will ensure fruit and vegetables stay fresh and don’t get squashed. Lunchboxes or carry cases with space for an icepack will keep contents chilled and reduce the chance of an unappealing and soggy lunch!
- Replace chocolate bars and cakes with fresh or dried fruit.
- Swap crisps for crackers, crispbreads or unsalted popcorn.
- Although nuts make a great snack, note that many schools ban them to protect children with nut allergies.
- Instead of sugary drinks, consider milk, low sugar milkshakes, diluted smoothies or high-juice squashes.
- Making double-decker sandwiches with extra fillings or cutting sandwiches into shapes with biscuit cutters can make them more exciting if your child is getting bored.
Take a look at our range of healthy eating books to find out more tips and ideas for things to include in your child’s lunchbox. The healthy lunchbox- Fiona Beckett, The top 100 recipes for a healthy lunchbox- Nicola Graimes or My first juices and smoothies- Amanda Cross.
Do you have any tips for making a healthy packed lunch or for persuading your little one to try new foods? Share them in our comments section below.