Back to school guide Making healthier school lunchboxes
Children need a healthy, balanced diet, which is rich in fruit, vegetables and starchy foods, in order to stay focused at school. If your child has school dinners, talk to your child about the types of food they need to eat to stay healthy and encourage them to vary their meals.
Packed lunches give you more control over your child’s diet, but it can be a challenge to keep them interesting and healthy.
Making school packed lunches
It’s worth remembering that a child at school should have about a third of their daily nutrient requirements at lunchtime.
As a guide, the NHS advises that a healthy packed lunch should contain a mix of foods from the different food groups.
Use these guidelines to help you pack a healthy school lunchbox:
- Around a third of the meal should be made up of fruit and vegetables.
- Another third should be starchy foods such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta - choose wholegrain varieties whenever you can.
- Some milk and dairy foods should be included, and should make up about 15% of the meal.
- Some meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein are part of a balanced meal. These should make up around 15% of a meal.
- Foods and drinks high in fat and/or sugar should be included only an occasional treat.
Our example school lunchbox menus will help you get started packing more nutritious and tasty lunchboxes.
School lunch menus for 5-8 year olds
Houmous, red pepper and grated carrot pitta
30g chunk of reduced-fat cheese
Low-fat fruit yoghurt
Box of raisins
Edam, ham and lettuce wrap
Mini blueberry muffin
Semi-skimmed milk drink
School lunch menus for 9-12 year olds
Tortilla with chicken, tomato, onions and peppers
Plain unslated popcorn (small packet)
Cucumber and carrot sticks
Pasta salad with tomatoes, mushrooms, pepper and tuna (canned in spring water)
30g chunk of reduced-fat cheese
Low fat muesli yoghurt
Fresh orange juice
School lunch menus for 13-16 year olds
Pastrami and Edam cheese wholemeal wrap with lettuce and tomato
Slice of carrot cake
Bottle of water
Slice of homemade ham, mozzarella and tomato pizza
Fresh fruit salad with low-fat fromage frais
Tips for preparing lunchboxes
Follow these top tips for easy healthy lunchboxes:
- Keep your child’s school lunch cool by including a frozen juice carton. By lunchtime the juice will have melted into a refreshing drink and the rest of the lunchbox will be cool and fresh.
- Keep a variety of different types of bread, wraps and pittas in the freezer to be taken out as you need them. This will ensure day-to-day variety without bread and wrap products going off.
- You can sneak extra vegetables into your child’s diet in sandwiches. Lettuce, cucumber, tomato, green pepper, roasted peppers or sweet onion make great sandwich fillings.
- Vary the fruit and veg you add to school lunchboxes to help your child eat a balanced diet and discover favourites.
- Serve fruit in different ways and combinations – such as mixed slices, whole fruits, cubes and vegetable sticks – to make lunches more enjoyable.
- Choose lower-fat sandwich fillings such as lean meats like chicken or turkey, fish (such as tuna or salmon), cottage cheese, Edam and mozzarella. Avoid mayonnaise and try to use less butter, or even better, switch to low fat spread.