What’s a healthy lunchbox look like?

When it comes to lunch box ideas, most Australian parents find it’s a fine balance between packing what we think is right and what we know our children will eat. The fact is that we’re not there to supervise in the schoolyard and external stimuli such as time and what other children are eating play a role in what ‘boomerangs’ home in the afternoon.

So what makes a healthy lunchbox and ticks all the nutritional guidelines in simple terms?

Leanne Cooper, nutritionist from Cadence Health puts it simply:

“Lunch boxes should be made up of four main components. The first one is a main item such as a sandwich, wrap, pasta with vegetables, soup, frittata or sushi. The second component is whole fruit, cut up veggie sticks, canned fruit in natural juice, or a small salad. The third component is a second snack based on a core food* product such as reduced-fat yoghurt, grainy crackers with reduced-fat cheese, plain popcorn, a slice of raisin bread, a wholemeal fruit muffin, a boiled egg or a can of tuna, and finally a drink . Water is best. ”

Core foods  include vegetables and legumes/beans, fruit, grain (cereal) foods – mostly wholegrain and/or high fibre, lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans, milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives – mostly reduced fat.

So just what does all this mean?

One thing I try and keep in mind is trying to bring as much colour and crunch to a lunch box as possible. This will alleviate the all ‘white’ lunchbox syndrome (think pasta, white bread, biscuits and overdoing the dairy) and bring an element of surprise and excitement once your child sits down to eat.

Most confusion about the lunch box seems to come from the subject of snacks, so let’s clear things up!

There are many food manufacturers out there convincing us that they will make our lives easier with bulk-packet processed products, but these are the ones we want to avoid. It’s startling to realise the amount of sugar found in a humble store-bought muesli bar (up to 6 grams), a juice popper (20 grams) and an innocent packet of sultanas (20 grams). This can take a simple snack to a whopping 46 grams, which equates to around 11 teaspoons of sugar; far above the recommended daily recommendation of 12 grams for children. The same applies for hidden fat (think crackers, crisps, cake, etc), which binds most snacks together. Avoiding pre-packaged ‘convenience’ foods and packing foods that are as close to nature as possible is the simplest option.

If you can’t avoid the temptation of convenience, Choice helps us out by looking at more than 100 pre-packaged snacks and how they measure up. When searching for snacks aim for 600kj or less per serve, 5 grams or less of saturated fat, less than 15 grams of sugar per 100 grams (or not listed in the top three ingredients) and less than 200 milligrams of sodium.

Here is what a simple, balanced, minimal-fuss lunch box looks like


Lunch box 1

  • Sandwich on grainy bread with avocado, lettuce, carrot and chicken
  • Piece of fruit – banana
  • Snack based on core food groups – pot of set yoghurt and homemade muesli slice
  • Bottle of water


Lunch box 2

  • Egg and lettuce on wholemeal wrap
  • Fruit – apple
  • Snacks based on core food groups – celery and carrot sticks with grated cheese and sugar-free wholemeal pikelets
  • Bottle of water


Lunch box 3

  • Wholemeal pita pocket filled with avocado, lettuce, carrot and cheese
  • Fruit – mandarin
  • Snacks based on core food groups – boiled egg, 10-12 sultanas and homemade sugar-free banana mini muffin
  • Bottle of water or plain UHT milk popper

Of course, if your child is active and sporty then compensate for the extra energy burned by adding larger portions or another snack from the core food groups.

TIP: Bake up batches of healthy muffins, slices and bars on the weekends, wrap in portion sizes and store in the freezer and your daily lunchbox snack dilemmas will be a thing of the past!

What did you pack in your child’s lunch box today?

This post first appeared on Kidspot (you should go check it out)

Lunch box nutrition guidelines:

Previous Post Next Post

You Might Also Like