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10 healthy lunch box ideas for kids

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Lunch is an important meal in the day, providing energy and sustaining nutrients that should keep children going through the afternoon. If your child prefers to bring in lunch rather than having school meals, below you'll find a variety of healthy lunch box ideas that should appeal to even a fussy eater.

Lunchtime kit

To start with, think about how your child will bring lunch to school. You could rely on plain kitchen foil or polythene sandwich bags to bring in a sandwich, but if you invest in a few storage items, your child will have lots more options regarding which food can be taken to school.

  • Lunch box/bag: Your child won't have access to a fridge at school, so investing in an insulated lunch box or bag will help keep lunch fresh until lunchtime. There are a number of options available, but if the lunch box isn't insulated, ice packs can be added to keep food chilled. In hot weather you can freeze a bottle of water overnight and pack it in the lunch box to keep the other contents cool. Don’t overfill the bottle as water expands as it freezes. Your child will certainly want to have a say about the choice of pattern on the box - there are many available to appeal to children of all ages.
  • Re-sealable plastic containers: Available is an assortment of sizes and shapes - and some with compartments - these are ideal for storing sandwiches, salads and dressings, ready-prepared fruit and vegetables, snacks and dips. A compartment for eating utensils such as a plastic knife, fork and/or spoon may be included. Have a few in a variety of sizes to provide your child with the best options: a large one for sandwiches or salads, smaller ones for snacks and a small pot or two for dressings or dips. Make sure the containers can be easily opened if you are packing a lunch for a younger child. Bento boxes are increasingly popular. Modern versions are two or three compartmented plastic boxes, sometimes with a space for cutlery. They’re an updated version of traditional Japanese lunchboxes.

It may be tempting to pack a food flask for hot foods or drinks, but kids are not known for being particularly careful, and spilt hot soup or drink is not ideal for cleaning up, and more importantly hot fluids can scald.

Getting the portions right

It is important that children have a good balanced meal for lunch that contributes towards their nutritional needs during the day. A healthy meal that has a balance of vegetables, fruit, protein and carbohydrates and lower in sugar and salt - will help keep children from flagging in the afternoon.

If you’re trying to get a good balance of food on their plate then the ‘ Eatwell Guide’ guide from Public Health England is a good place to start: remember it relates to the whole day’s diet, and not just to a single meal. It suggests:

  • Adding more fruit and vegetables to the diet, for a variety of vitamins, minerals and fibre, whilst also providing lower-calorie snack options, essential to reduce the risk of childhood obesity.
  • Including starchy carbohydrates, especially from wholegrains, to provide sustained energy throughout the day. Starchy carbs include grains (wheat, rice, oats, rye, barley), breads and pasta.
  • Include some dairy foods each day, a good source of protein and calcium, both of which are necessary for healthy bones.
  • Protein rich foods twice a day, to replace natural protein turnover in the body, and to cope with growth spurts. Protein foods include lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, beans and lentils.
  • Make high fat, high sugar and salty foods occasional foods in your child’s diet, and avoid sugar-sweetened drinks such as fizzy drinks or squashes. Keep healthier drinks and snacks, like baked crisps, fizzy plain water and low calorie/sugar free drinks at home, so there’s no temptation.

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