How to build a balanced lunch box.

We all know the importance of a healthy lunch for our kids and creating a balanced lunch box, but how do you know you’re packing the right combination of foods to ensure they’re getting all the nutrients they need? What you pack for school makes up to one-third of all of their nutritional requirements in a day, so getting it right is important for helping them to concentrate, learn more and have lots of energy throughout the day. Teaching kids to eat a nutritious, balanced diet will foster positive eating habits and set them up for better health outcomes in adulthood. But even the healthiest of lunches won’t provide any nutritional value if it gets thrown in the bin, so finding tasty options that are good for them is key.

Where to start?

The overarching goal of a balanced lunch box is to provide foods from each of the five food groups:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Protein
  • Wholegrains
  • Dairy

A good way to build a lunchbox is to start with the main or core item, like a sandwich, wrap or serving of pasta, then add your building blocks of fruit and nutritious snacks, always keeping the five food groups in mind. How much you pack will depend on your child’s activity levels and the length of their day.

As your core item, sandwiches are a staple in most lunch boxes but keep it interesting with different fillings they’ll be excited about eating. Make sure bread is wholegrain as this will provide them with more sustained energy than white bread varieties. Why not try flat bread, wraps or pita bread and try cutting them into rounds or shapes for something different. Here are some fresh sandwich ideas:

  • Grated cheese, pineapple, lettuce and grated carrot
  • Curried Egg and rocket
  • Tuna, cottage cheese, cucumber and baby spinach
  • Chicken, mustard mayo, celery and lettuce
  • Ham, pesto, cheese and lettuce

Water makes the best drink as kids don’t need sugary cordials, juices or soft drinks which can lead to tooth decay if drunk in excess. Always pack a bottle of water every day. Freezing a bottle of water and putting in their lunchbox will ensure they have cold water all day in the hotter months, as well as keeping food cool. You may choose to pack a small reduced fat milk drink as a special treat once a week.

Examples of a balanced lunch box

Some examples of a balanced lunchbox might be:

  • A wholegrain sandwich filled with grated carrot, cucumber, lettuce and tomato; bite-sized pieces of watermelon; a boiled egg and a tub of yogurt.
  • Ham and corn frittata with a salad of cherry tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce, a banana, cubes of cheddar cheese with wholegrain crackers and a pack of Kids Pizza flavour Fav-va beans.
  • Chicken and capsicum pesto pasta, an apple, vegetable sticks with hummus and wholegrain crackers and a tub of reduced fat custard.
  • A wholegrain wrap with grated ham, tomato, avocado and lettuce, an orange, a reduced fat chocolate milk and a packet of sultanas.
  • A wholegrain pita pocket with curried egg and rocket, a banana, a tub of yogurt and slices of celery, carrot and capsicum with dip.

Hints and tips

  • Talk to your kids! Ask them what they would like to eat and try and guide them in the direction of healthy eating. This opens the discussion around health and why it’s important to take care of yourself and your body.
  • Always check the ‘allowable’ foods policy for your child’s school and strictly adhere to the guidelines. More and more children suffer with food allergies so ensure you know exactly what’s in what you’re packing.
  • Be sure to keep lunches cool with an ice brick from the freezer or a cool, frozen drink. Bacteria quickly grows when food is not refrigerated.
  • Having your children help make and pack their lunches generally means they will be more engaged in the process and therefore more likely to eat it, so let them choose items and make their own sandwiches.
  • Prepare food ahead of time. Make some healthy muffins or a delicious frittata the night before or on the weekend and freeze for when you need them.

Variety is key. Kids will get bored with the same thing day in, day out, so try and be creative.