Skip to content

Healthy lunch boxes for kids

Average read time: 4 minutes

It’s often a challenge for parents to tuck nutritious lunch boxes into school backpacks every morning, especially when everyone’s in a rush. Sometimes it’s tempting to toss in a packet of crisps or sweets when you just don’t have time – or the ingredients – to put together a balanced meal. But the food you pack into lunch boxes can have a real and lasting impact on your children’s wellbeing.

Healthy lunch boxes for kids

It’s estimated that the contents of a lunch box can make up a third of kids’ daily calories and nutrients, so it’s important to make every mouthful count. Well-balanced, nutritious lunches keep their energy levels up and help them stay focused and alert throughout an action-packed school day.

Easier said than done, of course, particularly if you’re dealing with picky eaters who turn up their noses at the healthy snacks you provide, or tell you that they swapped their sarmies for the contents of another child’s lunch box.

But smart planning can alleviate much of the stress of a daily lunch box routine: read on for our tips!

Thinking ahead

Make a lunch box menu: It’s a good idea to set aside 30 minutes every week to plan lunch boxes for the next seven days. This way, you can add all the items you need to your shopping list so there’s no early-morning panic because you’ve run out of cheese or bread.

Lovely leftovers: Another good strategy is to plan family meals with lunch boxes in mind. Choose kid-friendly recipes that can easily be doubled so there are plenty of leftovers for popping into lunch boxes. Some examples are meatballs, kebabs, fritters, fish cakes, frittatas and pancakes. Left-over roast chicken and savoury mince can be used as fillers for sandwiches, wraps or tortillas. You’ll find some easy recipes for suitable family meals at the end of this page.

Make ahead: It makes sense, if you know that the morning will be rushed, to prepare lunch boxes the day before: make the sandwiches, boil the eggs, cut up the fruit, and keep the boxes in the fridge overnight. During hot weather, put water bottles into the freezer so that they thaw during the course of the morning to provide an icy midday drink.

Include all the important food groups

Adding foods from the five main groups below is an excellent way of ensuring your child receives a good balance of nutrients every day.

  • Proteins: Lean meats, chicken, fish, eggs and plant-based alternatives (such as tofu and beans) are all excellent sources of protein.
  • Vegetables: Veggies are nutritional powerhouses packed with vitamins. This group includes pulses and legumes, such as fibre-rich lentils, peas, and chickpeas.
  • Fruit: Most kids love fresh fruit, especially if it’s attractively presented (see tips below).
  • Dairy: Cheese, yoghurt, milk, and other dairy products are a great source of calcium and other nutrients.
  • Grain foods: Cereals, breads, crackers, pasta, and grains such as rice and quinoa provide plenty of energy in the form of carbohydrates. To ensure that your child gets enough fibre, choose wholewheat breads and biscuits, and healthier whole grains such as brown rice, barley, and oats.

Presentation matters!

Kids often ‘eat with their eyes’! Taking a little extra effort to present snacks attractively will up the chances of your children trying – and hopefully finishing – what’s in their boxes. Cut sandwiches into quarters, or use a cookie cutter to create interesting shapes. Slice veggies into sticks or bite-size pieces, and add a little tub of dip (such as hummous or cream cheese). Thread fruit and cheese cubes onto kebab sticks, roll up slices of ham and cut boiled eggs into quarters. For more inspiring creative ideas, visit Knorr’s Lovely Lunch Boxes board on Pinterest!

Keep experimenting

It’s not easy dealing with a picky eater who just doesn’t want to try the food you lovingly prepare. But studies01 have shown that giving children repeated opportunities to taste foods they’re not familiar with can result in increased liking and consumption. In other words, your child might need to be exposed to a new food multiple times before he or she accepts it – so the trick here is to keep trying!

Varying the contents of lunch boxes can also help tempt kids to eat. Children adore novelty, so keep experimenting with adding different snacks to lunch boxes, even if you make just one change every week.

If you have a child who resolutely refuses to eat veggies, try the ‘sneaky vegetables’ approach: add finely grated carrots, baby marrows, cauliflower, and mashed peas (or beans) to savoury mince, meatballs, or cheesy muffins.

Say bye-bye to ‘junk’ snacks

No harm can come from adding an occasional sweet or salty treat to a lunch box, but highly processed snacks should never become the norm, because they’re lacking in nutrients and don’t provide sustained energy. Instead of sweets, try adding dried fruit or fruit leather, frozen grapes, fruity muffins, banana bread, or a tub of yoghurt. Nuts, popcorn, and biltong are great alternatives to crisps. Boxed fruit juices tend to be very sugary: it’s best to dilute them with plenty of water or to provide just water on its own.

Family-friendly recipes for lunchbox leftovers

Back to top