As parents, we all want to give our kids the best food we can but time, cost and fussy eating habits can make it tricky. Here’s our ‘how to’ guide on nutrition, kit and recipes to help you create lunchboxes they’ll love.
1: The Nutritional Low-Down
You should be aiming to cover the following food groups in your child’s diet every day:
- Grains or Carbohydrates (whole meal or multigrain where possible)
In addition, try to buy the most natural version of a food you can and limit added sugar, salt and foods high in saturated fat.
As a guide, a child’s portion is the amount they can fit in their hand.
If you need to use dairy alternatives, try to pick varieties which are unsweetened and fortified with calcium.
2: Health Hacks
You don’t need to slave away to create healthy meals for your children. Here are our top health hacks to maximize nutrition quickly and easily:
- Dairy products – swap for low fat versions of the same where possible.
- Less spread – see how far your mayonnaise, butter or cream cheese can go rather than covering bread with a thick covering. Or, try using 50% unsweetened Greek yoghurt and 50% mayo to lower fat and add protein.
- Wholegrain – swap bread, bagels, wraps and pitta for wholegrain or multigrain versions wherever possible. If your child doesn’t like wholegrain, try 50:50.
- Lean Protein – aim for lean protein like chicken, turkey and fish rather than fatty protein. It’ll help with weight and boost their energy.
- Grate your veg! – add grated veg to plain meals to boost the nutrition…e.g. a simple cream cheese sandwich with grated carrot.
- Bitesize Fruit – chop or segment fruit to make it more appealing to eat.
- Sugar – compare products for the lower sugar varieties and if baking, switch to a low fat alternative like Truvia.
- Crisp Cut Down – swap crisps for homemade plain popcorn, rice cakes, breadsticks or whole meal crackers to lessen fat and salt content.
- Cake Free – swap cookies or cakes for malt loaf, fruited teacakes or fruit dipped in low sugar chocolate to make treats healthier.
3: The Right Kit
With the right kit, pre is so much easier…there are so many to choose from so here are our top options depending on your preferred recipes. Everything we recommend is BPA free and dishwasher friendly.
Great for dividing food groups and presenting food as fun, here are our favourites:
- Boon Bento Lunch Box – It’s easy to see why these lunchboxes have become a cult item. With removable compartments, a freezer pack for keeping everything cool, exterior stretchy bands to hold cutlery and a handle on top for easy carrying, these eco-friendly lunchboxes are the whole package.
- Green Sprouts Bento Box – With a lockable lid, multiple compartments and space for a fork and spoon inside, these are brilliant for carrying the whole day’s food in one container.
- Take & Toss Double Duty Plates – whilst not technically lunchboxes, the trays for these plates double up as lids making them super handy for washing, using and storing and come with a built-in utensil compartment and fork.
There is a huge range of cool bags out there…find a bag which your child likes, is light, easy to clean and can hold everything you need.
- JJ Cole Lunch Pack – stylish, easy to carry, roomy and insulated.
- Skip Hop Zoo Lunchie Insulated Lunch Bag – The fun faces and matching zippers make these lunch bags loved by many kids.
- Skip Hop Forget Me Not Backpack & Lunch bag – the ultimate bag for holding everything in one place.
- Squeasy Gear Collapsible Bottle – Easy to fill, grip and squish these brightly coloured no-spill reusable bottles are popular for a reason.
- Lassig drinking bottle – clear plastic with fun shapes and an integrated, bendable straw.
From mix and match snack pots to freeze packs and cutlery…
- Green Sprouts Unbreakable Cubes – designed for fresh baby food and freezing, these lightweight cubes are brilliant as small snack pots.
- Pete The Cat Cold Packs – small enough to fit mini lunchboxes, these fun packs freeze solid in under 2 hours and will bring a smile.
- Little Green Pouch Reusable Pouches – also designed for baby food, these pouches are brilliant for fussy eaters, freezing and easy travelling.
- Zo-Li Travel Formula & Snack Dispenser – bright, colourful and stackable.
- Lassig Children’s Cutlery – durable and with animal prints, this stainless-steel bend-resistant cutlery brings reliable high quality.
- ZoLi FOONi – Both a fork and a spoon, this combo cutlery is genius!
4: Food Made Fun
There are endless ideas on fun food which a quick Google or Pinterest search could help you with…whatever shapes you go with, here are our top tips:
- Make Sandwiches Fun – buy some cookie cutters in fun shapes to make sandwich stars, animals and fun shapes.
- Make Shape Batches – if you do regularly make sandwich shapes, freeze batches of pre-cut shapes to help save you time!
- Use Leftover Bread Cuttings – waste not by blending them into breadcrumbs or baking with olive oil for quick and crunchy croutons.
- Theme Meals With Colour – e.g. if your child loves green you could use a spinach tortilla, green pasta, green pesto, broccoli, apple slices and grapes to create a green-themed lunch which will feel personal and fun to them.
- Make Meals Together – if your child has helped to make their meal, they are a lot more likely to want to eat it.
5: Our Favourite Recipes
- Apple and pear wedges (top tip: keep apple or pear slices from going brown by adding a little lemon juice to them before putting them in a sealed container)
- Satsuma segments
- Strawberries (without the husks)
- Halved grapes (remember to halve grapes lengthways to help prevent choking)
- Pineapple chunks
- Melon slices
- Kiwi chunks
- Carrot Sticks – try with a tablespoon of hummus to dip in for extra protein
- Raw red pepper wedges – also yummy with hummus
- Roasted chickpeas (roast with a little olive oil for a crunchy healthy snack)
- Falafel balls
- Home baked pita chips (roast without oil to keep low fat)
- Sweet potato wedges
- Plain popcorn
- Halved cherry tomatoes
- Boiled eggs (keep chilled)
- Cucumber sticks
- Courgette sticks
- Cucumber sushi
- Sweet potato crisps (thinly slice sweet potato and roast with a little olive oil)
- Egg and Spinach Muffins (keep chilled)
- Yoghurt with fruits (keep chilled)
- Healthy oat bars, flapjack and muffins (try low sugar versions)
- Fruit and nut energy balls (try using blended dates, coconut, dried fruit and seeds for these super-nutritious little balls of energy which taste like treats)
- Small packs of pre-chopped fruit, e.g. apple or mango
- Whole organic fruit bars
- Unsweetened apple sauce cups
- Toasted seaweed snacks
- Dried fruit (check that no extra sugar or juices have been added)
- Unsweetened granola (to eat dry)
- Wholegrain crackers
- Pitted dates
- Mini cheese sticks / Babybel
- Unsalted sunflower and pumpkin seeds
- Wholegrain rice cakes (with hummus, marmite, cream cheese, nut butter…)
- Mini yoghurts (go for natural flavourings and low sugar options)
- Sugar free jelly pots
- Trail mix
- Low sugar malt loaf
- Low sugar peach or fruit segment pots (tinned or potted fruit in juice still counts as nutritious and is great for storing at home. Pick juice not syrup versions)
Our top tip with lunches is to either make sandwiches and wraps ahead of time or make big portions of carbohydrate which you then use for suppers and lunches, meaning that you aren’t creating meals from scratch every day.
- Brown rice, Wholegrain or Tri-Colour Pasta, Potatoes or Quinoa…with chicken, egg, cheese, tuna…you name it! Cook up a big portion of and it will last you several lunches and suppers. Simply add any protein and veggies. Pesto can also be your best friend at adding yumminess and healthy fats.
- Beans: tuna and bean salad, chicken and bean salad or just home baked beans with tomatoes for yummy sustaining food.
- Soups: hot and cold veggie varieties make for a wonderful way to sneak lots of veg into their diet and can be made in big batches to save time and money.
- Veggie Burgers: healthy, filling and a great way of adding veg into their diets!
- Salads: try mixing up your lettuce leaves to introduce variety, using herb based salads like Tabbouleh and crumbling feta, other cheeses, hummus and meat in to add taste, variety and crunch.
- Quiche: Quiche is not only yummy but combines protein, veggie and carbohydrate. If you can, use whole meal flower or bake a frittata using potato instead of pastry for extra energy and less fat.
- Sandwiches: Where possible, try for whole meal or multigrain. Also think beyond bread alone…try bread, bagels, pitta breads and wraps.
- Sandwich filling ideas:
- Chicken with chopped grapes and mayo
- Cheese and pickle
- Tuna or egg mayo
- Cucumber and marmite
- Nut butters (if allowed)
- Hummus and almost anything!
- Grated veggies e.g. grated apple or carrot with cheese
- Creamy smoked mackerel
- Chicken guacamole
- Salmon with cucumber cream cheese
- Cottage cheese and tomatoes
- Cheesy coleslaw
- Cream cheese and cucumber or celery
- Turkey and cranberry sauce
- Bottle of water! If your child doesn’t like plain water, try a ribbon of cucumber in the water to naturally sweeten it or add a dash of 100% juice
- Milk (try for semi-skimmed if possible) …did you know that a 200ml glass of milk is 55% of your child’s daily calcium needs?
- No added sugar 100% juice (if your child doesn’t like milk, we recommend choosing a juice with added calcium to help encourage health bone growth)
With thanks to the following blogs for recipe tips and tricks:
- Forks Over Knives: https://www.forksoverknives.com/lunchbox-tips-tricks-and-ideas-for-back-to-school/#gs.isTW9pE
- BBC Good Food: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/school-packed-lunch-inspiration
- NHS Change 4 Life: https://www.nhs.uk/change4life/recipes/healthier-lunchboxes#YBxiDITbfXAFW0Eo.97
- Waitrose: http://www.waitrose.com/content/waitrose/en/home/inspiration/healthy-eating-andweightloss/healthy_eating_for_children/Healthy_lunches_for_children.html?wtrint=1-Content-_-2-Inspiration-_-3-healthy_eating_for_children-_-4–_-5-hotspot-_-6-healthychildrenlunches
- Web MD: https://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/healthy-lunchbox-tips#1
- My Kids Lick The Bowl: https://mykidslickthebowl.com/lunch-box-tips/