School packed lunches

Thanks to Jamie Oliver, school dinners have had a radical overhaul. But what about the lunchboxes we pack for our children?

It’s just as important to make sure the lunchbox your child takes to school provide a healthy, balanced lunch as when they eat at home.

This means plenty of foods that contain the nutrients that children need, and fewer foods that are high in sugar and saturated fat.

You can learn the healthy foods basics in Good food and diet.

Packing the lunchbox

A balanced packed lunch should contain:

  • Starchy foods. These are bread, rice, potatoes and pasta, and others.
  • Protein foods. These are meat, fish, eggs, beans and others.
  • A dairy item. This could be cheese or yoghurt.
  • Vegetables or salad, and a portion of fruit.

Starchy foods are a good source of energy, and should make up a third of the lunchbox. But don’t let things get boring. Instead of sandwiches give kids bagels, pitta bread, wraps and baguettes. Use brown, wholemeal or seeded bread, not white bread.

Get ideas for healthy starchy foods.

Children often like food they can eat with their fingers, so chop up raw veggies such as carrots or peppers, and give them houmous or cottage cheese to dip the veggies in. Breadsticks and wholemeal crackers are great finger foods and they can be spread with low-fat soft cheese or eaten with reduced-fat cheddar and pickles.

Replace chocolate bars and cakes with fresh fruit, dried fruit.

Vary the fruit each day and get them to try new things, like kiwi or melon.

Unsalted nuts are a great snack food for children to have at home, but it's best to leave them out of your child's packed lunch. Many schools ban nuts to protect pupils with a nut allergy.

Here are more ideas for healthy food swaps.

You could also make up a tasty fruit salad. Be inventive and encourage your children when they try something new.

Making healthier food

It may take a while for your children to get used to a healthier lunchbox. But it will be worth it for their health, so keep trying.

You can help by eating a wider range of foods at home, as a family. For ideas on how to introduce more fruit and vegetables into your family’s diet, read 5 A DAY and your family.

Reading supermarket food labels can help you to buy healthier foods for your child's lunch, and for family meal times. Learn more in Buy healthier food.

Save chocolate and cakes for occasional treats. Remember to praise your child when they've tried something new, to show your encouragement.

You can find lots of ideas for healthy lunches at Change4Life: healthy lunchbox ideas.

Lunchbox ideas

There are more ideas for healthy packed lunches from the Children's Food Trust.


Page last reviewed: 10/10/2012

Next review due: 10/10/2014

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The 3 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

salzzone said on 19 February 2012

You could add a freezer block to their lunch boxes to keep refrigerated items cool. Also the childrens squeezy yoghurts can be frozen and added to lunch boxes in the morning, they keep the food cool and are also at a nice chilled temperature by lunch time. There are some lunch boxes available to buy with a built in freezer block, as well as drinks bottles for the summer. Hope this helps.

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salzzone said on 19 February 2012

You can add a freezer block to lunch boxes to keep refrigerated items cool. Squeezy yoghurts can be frozen and then put into lunch boxes in the morning, they keep their pack up cool and are defrosted to a nice chilled temperature to eat by lunch time. There are also lunch boxes on the market with a chiller section that keeps food cool. Hope this helps!

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ThreeKids said on 13 January 2012

The trouble with packed lunches is, they have to stay in the children's cloakrooms, where it can get quite warm and busy! Some of the foods you suggest should be served chilled, how do I get around that! The school does not offer chilled storage.

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