Kids

How to Build a Balanced Lunchbox

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Written by Simone Austin | Swisse Accredited Practising Dietitian

Lunch boxes can be challenging. They don’t need to be complicated, but they do need to be appealing, as no matter how healthy your child’s lunch box is, it won’t provide any nutritional value if it doesn’t get eaten!

Start by having your child involved in making their lunch each day, as they’re more likely to eat what they’ve prepared or chosen. Encourage them to try new foods rather than having the same thing each day and remind them it will take around 10 times before they like a new food.

Two children walking to school

As children eat about one third of their food at school, its important lunchboxes are nourishing. Here’s a few great tips to ‘build’ a wholesome lunchbox:

1. Start with wholegrains. These are an important source of carbohydrate to fuel young bodies and brains. Kick start your kids’ wholegrain habit as it will feed their wonderful gut bacteria!

Ideas: wholegrain breads, dry biscuits, wraps or flat breads, brown rice, quinoa, wholemeal cous cous, plain popcorn.

2. Add protein. Protein will provide nutrients for growth, support their immune system and fill up their tummies.

Ideas: hard boiled eggs, cans of fish, legumes (chickpeas, hummus, kidney beans), lean meats, cheese, tofu, tubs of yoghurt, milk, seeds and nuts.

Lunchbox with wraps, an apple and cherry tomatoes

3. Eat the rainbow. Throw in some veggies for vitamins, minerals, fibre and all those good things.

Get creative with these bitesize ideas: cherry tomatoes, grated or baby carrots, olives, baby cucumbers, lettuce and corn on the cob.

4. Whole fruit. Include a piece of fruit or two. Fruit is naturally sweet so generally a popular addition. Cut up fruit is much more likely to be eaten, with bite-size always best.

Ideas: pineapple chunks, strawberries, watermelon, apple slices with a squeeze of juice from an orange to stop it browning.

Glass jar of mixed, sliced fruit

5. Calcium. A serve of calcium is important for bone and teeth building. This can be found most readily in dairy foods.

Ideas: cheese with wholegrain crackers, a tub of yoghurt or tetra pack of plain milk. Tofu and milk alternatives with added calcium e.g. soy drinks can be useful calcium sources too.

6. Water. Hydrate - water, water and did I say water? A tap-refilled drink bottle or straight from the drinking fountain.

Remember to always consider how the food will be kept hot or cool to ensure their lunch doesn’t spoil and make them sick. A great idea for cool foods is to freeze UHT milk, yoghurt or water ahead of time in an insulated lunch box.

Make lunchtime an enjoyable time to open the lunchbox. Experiment and see!

Learn more about healthy lunchbox food - and a whole host of other dietary information - in Simone Austin’s new book, Eat Like An Athlete (Hardie Grant Books).