Healthy School Lunch Box Ideas

If you’re anything like me one of the frustrations of your day is trying to come up with Healthy School Lunch Box Ideas every day! Ones that contain a variety of food groups, look appealing, taste good and actually get eaten!

A recent survey conducted by Nestlé South Africa on the nutritional landscape of the South African population showed that only 49% of children take a packed lunch to school but preparing a healthy lunchbox for your children can ensure that they are getting their daily intake of nutrients and vitamins which is why it’s so essential. Also it is well documented that children learn better when their tummies are full of the “right” type of food. It is also important to remember that a lunch box is essentially your child’s meal for midday – and if this isn’t substantial enough they might only be eating one healthy meal a day at dinner time! Surely not enough for a growing child to develop properly!

Nestlé South Africa wants to help moms to prepare healthier lunchboxes for their children to ultimately create healthier eating habits for the next generation which is why they have put together this cute infographic on what a healthy lunchbox looks like!

“Lunchboxes form an important part of a balanced meal plan and healthy lunchboxes ensure that your children are receiving essential nutrients and the recommended kilojoules to sustain their energy levels, alertness and focus during the school day,” says Naazneen Khan, nutrition health and wellness manager at Nestlé South Africa.

The recommended daily intake for children aged 5 to 10 is 7530 kilojoules. This includes 70g fat (one teaspoon of margarine, mayonnaise, avocado or butter equates to five grams), 85g sugar (this equates to 17 teaspoons of sugar or a tub of yogurt as well as a bite-size chocolate bar and one glass of fruit juice) and 1600mg sodium or 4g salt (this is a ¾ teaspoon of salt for the day).

To provide children with the daily nutrition they require a healthy lunchbox can include:
• Starchy foods such as bread, rice, potatoes or pasta. You can use brown, wholegrain or seeded bread or rolls, rice or corncakes, Pro-Vitas or pap from the night before as alternatives.
• Lean proteins such as tuna, boiled eggs, beef, chicken or even leftover mince or stew can make for great sandwich fillers.
• Reduced fat dairy such as low fat yoghurt, reduced fat cheese or low fat milk. Ensure these are kept chilled whether in a cooler bag or alongside a frozen water bottle.
• Fruit and vegetables such as strawberries, apple slices, grapes, carrot sticks or cherry tomatoes. Fruit is easy to pack and raw veggies such as cucumber, celery or lettuce work well as a snack or on a sandwich.
• Water to keep them hydrated. As children often prefer flavoured drinks, try adding cordial or squash to their water but try to avoid highly coloured and artificially sweetened options.

The study also revealed that only 48% of children in South Africa claim to eat lots of fruit and vegetables. These are important additions to your child’s diet as they contain vitamins, minerals and fibre. Parents should encourage at least two to three servings of fruit and/or vegetables a day.

A good intake of water is also recommended. The study shows that the average child only consumes four glasses of water a day, which is only 50% of the recommended amount of eight glasses. “Add a smaller glass of water to each meal to ensure that your child stays hydrated especially after physical activities and in the heat of the summer months,” says Khan. Moms could also freeze the bottle of water to keep the lunchbox cool.

Here are some practical tips for preparing a healthy and safe lunchbox:
• Read food labels to ensure that you are choosing products low in saturated fats. These fats include palm kernel oil, coconut oil and butter.
• Avoid foods that have a high sugar content. Sugar can be in the form of corn syrup, fructose, sucrose and dextrose. High salt content, including MSG (monosodium glutamate), should also be avoided.
• Avoid high fat spreads and instead try avocado (with a little lemon to prevent browning) or low fat mayonnaise.
• As a healthy snack between meals offer your children dried fruit, peanuts or popcorn. Roll the popcorn in a sheet of A4 paper to ensure it stays fresh. This will also help with portion control.
• For busy families, prepare sandwiches and lunchboxes the night before and store them in the fridge for easy packing the next morning
• During hot weather avoid milk, yogurt, fish or meat in lunchboxes unless packed in a quality cooler to ensure freshness

Moms may be faced with untouched lunchboxes that don’t provide any nutritional value. To keep lunchboxes interesting involve your children. Encourage them to pack their own lunches with a range of healthy options that they will enjoy. This way you are not only teaching them about nutrition and healthier eating habits, you are also making it a family affair.

Lunchboxes can be exciting and enticing if you vary the content by including food from the different food groups and prepare food differently to avoid boredom. Occasionally include surprises like a bite-sized chocolate or portioned chips as a treat. Peanut butter, sandwich spread and jam can still be staple options for the weekly lunchbox but the key is variety. Keeping lunch interesting will help in get your child to eat better and enjoy their meal.

If this is not working and lunchboxes are coming home untouched, ask yourself:
• Is the lunchbox wrong? Your child may prefer a different lunchbox that’s easier to carry or something simple that can be thrown away.
• Is it the packaging? Children sometimes don’t have the patience to remove difficult packaging and don’t like getting their hands sticky.
• Is the lunch too much? Often children aren’t able to consume as much as they are given in a day. If the child is younger, cut the sandwich into smaller portions or perhaps half a sandwich is more appropriate.
• Is it the way the food is presented? Some children don’t like the skin on fruit. Peel oranges or cut the apple into slices before putting it in the lunchbox.

A while back I received some great suggestions for lunch boxes and thought you might like to get some ideas from these innovative moms!!

A fruit (apples, grapes, naartjies, bananas, pears or fruit salad)
Sandwich with Peanut Butter, Bovril, Ham, Cheese, Jam, Honey, Cottage Cheese, Melrose Cheese Spread etc
Provita or Ryvita or other crackers
Baby tomatoes
Cucumber slices
Carrot Sticks
Yogurt or drinking yoghurt
Dried fruit stick or fruit packs
A small packet of mini tennis/marie biscuits for a treat!
Pasta salad with pesto or tuna
Cheese sticks wrapped in thinly sliced ham
Dried fruit (dried mango or pears, apricots, dates, raisins etc)
Rice cakes (the yoghurt covered ones are yum!)
Corn thins
Cheese wedges or blocks of cheese
Nuts (almonds, peanuts etc) – but only for older kids and check your schools rules about this too!!
Droe wors
Fruit packs or liqui fruit left in the freezer overnight
Chicken vienna
Slice of ham
Left-over pizza

Some other great ideas:
Bake a batch of healthy, fruit filled, energy packed muffins on the weekend and have one every day!

Mini pita breads with a filling like: cheese and tomato or vienna’s or ham and cheese with cucumber, also put supper leftovers in them like chicken or mince.

Wraps with salad and or grilled chicken or chicken mayo.

Thank you so much for these ideas moms! Coming up with healthy, affordable and inviting school lunch box ideas for 12 school years (times however many children you have) is a feat worthy of numerous gold medals…. Moms are heroes! We love our moms 😉

What do you usually include in your child’s lunchbox? Do you have any other ideas to add to this list? Please feel free to share them in the comments below. You might even want to print out this suggestion list and stick it on the fridge for some inspiration!

Why not pin this post for future inspiration….


images: Nestlé

Kathryn Rossiter

Kathryn is a South African lifestyle blogger and mom of 2 who has been blogging daily for over 9 years! She writes about travel, health, beauty, fashion, decor and family... but not food (unless it's food she's eaten made by someone else) as she is a hopeless cook. She only wakes up early for 2 things... a red-eye flight to somewhere exotic and early morning game drives. She has just finished an extensive home renovation and would prefer to never see another box again. She's never met a chocolate or glass of bubbles that she didn't like!

  1. Next year my little one will be attending another ‘school’ – I will have to make her lunch – These ideas are great!

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