Packing healthy lunches for children (2023)

A healthy lunch box: why it’s important

A healthy lunch box full of fresh food gives your childenergy to play, concentrate and learn all day.

What you put in your child’s lunch box depends on your child’s age. And how much you put in your child’s lunch box depends on your child’s appetite and the length of your child’s day.

For example, children who go to child care, preschool or school for 6 hours a day might need to bring food for morning tea and lunch. Children who go for longer periods might also need afternoon tea.

It’s also a good idea to pack a bottle with tap water for your child to drink and refill. Fruit juice and soft drinks are high in sugar and aren’t recommended for children. They can lead totooth decay and other health problems.

Getting your child involved in choosing, preparing and packing their own lunch will make them more likely to eat it.

(Video) BENTO BOX LUNCH IDEAS | for work or back to school + healthy meal prep recipes

Healthy lunch ideas

Packing a lunch box from home means you can offer your child a range of healthy lunch options from the 5 food groups:

  • vegetables
  • fruit
  • grain foods – for example, bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, rice and corn
  • reduced-fat dairy – for example, milk, cheese and yoghurt
  • protein foods – for example, lean meat like chicken, fish including canned tuna and salmon, eggs, tofu, nuts and legumes like peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas.

Here are healthy lunch ideas that get the 5 food groups into your child’s lunch box:

  • a sandwich with wholegrain bread and a filling like salad, cheese, lean meat or falafel
  • different types of grain foods – rye breads, baguettes, seeded rolls, pita bread pockets, flat bread, wraps, foccacia, rice cakes, corn thins or turkish bread
  • dips like hummus, tzatziki or beetroot, along with pita, crackers or vegetable sticks for dipping
  • potato salad, chickpea salad, quinoa salad, Greek salad or tabbouleh
  • leftover pasta, rice and noodle dishes from dinner, kept and eaten cold, kept cold and reheated, or taken in a thermos
  • yoghurt and fruit or muesli, kept cold.

If your child won’t eat anything but white bread, try a high-fibre, low-GI loaf. These are more nutritious than white bread and will keep your child feeling full for longer after lunch.

Healthy snack options
Fresh fruit, stewed fruit in natural juice, a small handful of dried fruit, yoghurt, muesli, pieces of cheese, fruit bread, rice cakes, pikelets and wholegrain crackers all make nutritious snacks.

You could also try making your ownhealthy muffins or cakes using vegetables or fruit – for example, sultanas, carrot, banana, pumpkin or zucchini.

Sweet cakes are best kept for special occasions like birthdays. And always check the food policy at your child’s child care centre or school if you’re thinking of sending a birthday cake to child care or school.

(Video) ✨ Packing Lunch for my Kids pt. 2 ✨ | Tiktok Compilation

Most families are busy, so it’s good to look for tasty, simple and easy lunch box options. You can make sandwiches or homemade snacks like healthy muffins or pancakes the night before or on the weekend. Freeze them, and then pop them into the lunch box each day.

Sandwich, flat bread and pita bread fillings

A variety of new or unusual fillings can keep your child interested in sandwiches. For example, you could try flat or pita bread with finely sliced carrot, celery, capsicum, snow peas or cucumber. What about cherry tomatoes, corn, beetroot or sprouts with dips? Or add grated carrot, zucchini, sliced red cabbage, raisins or sultanas, sliced apple or fresh herbs.

Here are more ideas.

Vegetarian sandwich options

  • Cheese and grated carrot
  • Cheese, pineapple (drained and patted dry with kitchen paper) and lettuce
  • Cheese and chutney or sliced gherkin (pickled cucumber)
  • Cottage cheese or ricotta and chives or dates
  • Mashed or curried egg with chives, dill or parsley and lettuce
  • Omelette, tomato and rocket
  • Apple and raisin
  • Banana, sultanas and ricotta cheese
  • Avocado (sprinkled with lemon juice to stop it going brown), tomato and coriander
  • Seasoned and baked tofu (available ready made).
  • Falafel or lentil patties, lettuce and tomato

Sandwich fillings using meat and fish

  • Chicken (well cooked, fresh and kept cold), mayo and celery
  • Chicken, pesto and red capsicum
  • Leftover meat from last night’s dinner, tomato and cucumber
  • Drained canned tuna, stuffed green olives and tomato
  • Drained canned tuna and mashed avocado

Foods to keep out of lunch boxes
Meats like salami, mortadella, Strasburg, smoked turkey and pastrami are highly processed and salty. They can also be high in fat. You might want to save these for every now and then, rather than packing them every day.


Check the‘allowable’ foods policy at your child’s centre, preschool or school. Many centres and schools ask that you don’t pack certain foods – for example, eggs or anything with nuts. This is to protect children withallergies from coming into contact with those foods.

Some children are happy with the same lunch most days. Others might prefer a change from time to time. Get more lunch ideas by watching our videos onpreparing healthy lunch boxes together,preparing lunch boxes before school,preparing lunches at mealtime,sandwiches and leftovers andwraps.

Encouraging children to eat their lunches

Children usually want to eat quickly so that they can play. These ideas make things easy for them.

Keep it simple

  • Choose foods that are simple and easy to eat. Some children might have trouble opening fiddly packaging, or they might avoid foods that make their hands sticky.
  • Make sure that containers seal well but can be opened easily – do a test at home. It might be that your child isn’t eating lunch because it’s hard to get at!

Keep it small and easy to handle

  • Cut bread into thin slices.
  • Cut sandwiches into quarters to make them easier to manage.
  • Use less rather than more sandwich filling.
  • Include small fruits like strawberries, blueberries and grapes.
  • Cut larger fruits like oranges, watermelon and rockmelon into pieces that your child can eat easily and quickly.

Minimise mess

(Video) packing lunch for my kids tiktok competition ✨ health food # 1

  • Avoid soggy sandwiches by keeping spreads to a minimum and removing seeds from tomatoes.
  • Drain excess juices from fresh fruit and anything that comes in liquid – for example, tinned fruit, tinned beans and tinned tuna.
  • Use reusable containers or wraps to minimise waste.

If there’s no other choice, your child is more likely to eat the healthy food you’ve packed. So avoid packing sweet treats like cakes and biscuits, as well as high-salt or high-fat treats like packets of chips.

Check thefood labels on any packaged foods you put into your child’s lunch box. Healthy lunch box options are low in sugar, fat and salt.

Keeping food fresh and safe

Before preparing your child’s lunch box, always wash your hands well with warm soapy water. Make sure all chopping boards and utensils are clean and dry.

Any lunch box containing meat, fish, chicken, eggs, noodles, rice, pasta, yoghurt, cheese or milk needs to be kept cold, so choose an insulated lunch box or one that can fit a freezer pack or small bottle of frozen water. This will stop the growth of harmful bacteria, which could make your child sick.

Also make sure to check the use-by date for items like yoghurt and milk.

If you make your child’s lunch the night before, put it in the fridge (below 5°C) straight away. In the morning, add a bottle of frozen water to the lunch box to keep it cool until lunch time.

(Video) Easy Lunch Ideas I Packing Cold and Hot Lunches

If you’re packing a warm food like soup, heat it up in the morning and pack in a thermos – it will still be warm at lunch time. Add a wholemeal or multigrain bread roll for extra fibre.

If you follow these steps, it’ll help your child avoidfood poisoning.

When you’re buying lunch boxes, choose ones that are easy to clean and dry. Insulated lunch boxes are great, but they can sometimes be hard to keep clean.


What is a healthy school packed lunch? ›

packed lunch ideas

Sliced meat, chicken, fish, sliced egg in sandwiches, rolls or wraps, meat alternatives such as tofu or pulses like kidney beans and chickpeas in salads. White or wholegrain bread, rolls, pitta bread or wraps, plain naan bread, bagels, cooked pasta, rice, noodles, couscous or potato as a salad.

What should be in a healthy lunch box? ›

For example: Beans, edamame, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, hummus, veggie burger, roasted turkey or chicken slices, or a hardboiled egg. Choose any 1 whole grain. For example: whole grain pasta, bread, and crackers, brown rice, quinoa, steel-cut oats, and other minimally-processed whole grains.

What food should parents not pack in the lunchbox? ›

15 Items You Should Never Pack In Your Child's Lunch
  • Fruit Snacks. Fruit snacks might have the word “fruit” in them, but they actually have very little nutritional value. ...
  • Lunchables. ...
  • Deli Meat Sandwiches. ...
  • Potato Chips. ...
  • Drink Pouches and Juice Boxes. ...
  • Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches. ...
  • Energy Drinks. ...
  • Soda.
8 Dec 2016

How do you make packing lunches easier for kids? ›

Designate a lunch “cupboard”

Keep all the containers, baggies and reusable items together. Then add all non-perishable snack options such as applesauce, chips, Goldfish, fruit leathers, etc. This is also a great way to encourage your kids to help pack their own lunches with their favorite items.

What is a healthy lunch for a 5 year old? ›

Crackers, cheese, fruit, and veggies (carrots, cucumber, snap peas) Crackers, hummus, fruit, and veggies (carrots, celery, mini cucumbers) Mac and cheese with peas and fruit (see below for the full recipe) Pesto pasta with fruit.

How do you keep sandwiches fresh for kids lunch? ›

Toast your bread first to help prevent it from getting soggy. Add condiments (like mustard and mayo) in between slices of meat or cheese, rather than to the bread, to prevent it from getting soggy. Dry produce, such as lettuce, thoroughly before adding to the sandwich to ensure there's no additional moisture.

What is a balanced packed lunch? ›

A balanced packed lunch should contain the following foods. Carbohydrate: rice, potatoes, pasta or wholemeal bread (but avoid white bread) Protein: meat, fish, eggs or beans. PA. Dairy: a little cheese or yogurt.

How do you pack a waste free lunch? ›

5 Easy Tips for Packing Waste-Free Lunches
  1. Pack food that has its own container. ...
  2. Invest in a good quality reusable lunch box. ...
  3. Think reusable for utensils, containers, napkins, etc. ...
  4. Ask your child to bring home their lunch leftovers. ...
  5. Have your children help shop for and pack their lunches.

What can I put in my 6 year olds lunch box? ›

#9 Good lunch box ideas for kids – PBJ Mini bagel
  • Peanut butter and jelly mini bagel.
  • Cookie.
  • Chomps beef stick + cheese stick + cherry tomatoes.
  • Fruit salad.
  • Banana bread.
9 Oct 2021

What can I pack for kids instead of sandwiches? ›

15 Lunch Box Ideas for Kids Who Don't Like Sandwiches
  • Fried rice in a child's lunch thermos (here's our favourite fried rice recipe)
  • Tuna patties (eaten cold with salad)
  • Homemade bangers (sausages)
  • Baked beans in a child's lunch thermos (here's the recipe for our homemade Baked Beans)

What is an easy lunch to pack? ›

Easy Packed Lunch Ideas
  • 01 of 14. Ready-to-Eat Soup. ...
  • 02 of 14. Chicken Provencal Wrap with Spinach and Goat Cheese. ...
  • 03 of 14. Egg and Dill Tuna Salad Sandwich. ...
  • 04 of 14. Chicken Salad Sandwich. ...
  • 05 of 14. Hummus Avocado Wrap. ...
  • 06 of 14. Peanut Butter Banana Roll-Ups. ...
  • 07 of 14. Classic Turkey Club. ...
  • 08 of 14. Ploughman's Lunch.
14 Mar 2022

What do you feed a kid who doesn't like sandwiches? ›

Sliced apples, pears—Asian pears hold up best, says Levinson—sweet potato "toast", and waffles or pancakes (technically not bread and beloved by all kids, am I right?) can act as the bread in a PB&J not-sandwich. Same goes for cucumber rounds; layer them with cream cheese or sliced cheese and lunchmeat.

How do you pack a warm lunch for kids? ›

Ways to keep food warm in a lunch box
  1. Insulated containers. The best way to keep food warm in lunch boxes is to invest in some insulated food containers. ...
  2. Boiled water. ...
  3. Foil. ...
  4. Hot water bottle. ...
  5. Insulated thermal bags. ...
  6. Insulated lunch box. ...
  7. Separate hot and cold items.
2 Nov 2021

How can I prepare my kids lunch for a week? ›

School Lunch Meal Prep Tips

Consider where you may have dinner leftovers that can double as lunch. Prep ingredients that can be incorporated into multiple meals. Prepare one or two protein foods (like hard-boiled eggs, tuna salad, or hummus). Slice vegetables for easy sides or to tuck into wraps and pasta salads.

At what age should a child pack their own lunch? ›

In fact, says Ellyn Satter, a leading expert on feeding children, around 10 or 11 years old is when kids naturally start developing good food management skills, which includes packing their own lunch. Before then, they just might not be ready.

Should I pack my child's lunch? ›

Healthy lunches have been proven to help improve a child's academic performance, providing them with the nutrients to better develop cognitively. You should assess the school's lunch menu to make sure the meals are healthy and if your child will eat it. If not, packing their lunch may be the best option.

What is a good protein for kids lunch? ›

A three-ounce piece of beef has 26 grams of protein–that's more than a day's minimum for a 9-13 year old child! But protein is found in lots of foods beyond meat. Bans and lentils, soy foods like soy milk, edamame and tofu, and protein-rich grains like quinoa are all good sources of protein.

How do you pack cheese and crackers for lunch? ›

Slice the cheese and wrap groups of five crackers in a sandwich baggie or waxed paper (I skipped wrapping my crackers). Divide all the ingredients between four containers. Refrigerate your cheese board lunch boxes until you're ready to eat, or up to five days!

How long can you keep a sandwich in a lunchbox? ›

Perishable foods, such as cold cut sandwiches and yogurt, can be left out at room temperature for no more than 2 hours before they become unsafe to eat. With an insulated lunch box and a chilled freezer gel pack, perishable food can stay cold and safe to eat until lunch.

How do you pack a lunch on a balanced day? ›

  1. Packing meals for the balanced school day can be an easy and fun task. Meals can be. balanced in a variety of ways. ...
  2. Oatmeal Raisin Muffin. Grain Products: 1. Sliced turkey on whole. ...
  3. Container with whole. grain cereal. Grain Product: 1. ...
  4. Cheese. Milk Products: 1. ...
  5. 1-2 Cold waffles. Applesauce. ...
  6. One rolled roti or. chapatti filled with.

Which lunch is most balanced? ›

15 easy, balanced lunch ideas
11 Oct 2018

How can I make school lunches healthier? ›

Path to improved health
  1. Offer fruits and vegetables each day.
  2. Increase whole-grain food options.
  3. Offer only fat-free or low-fat milk options.
  4. Serve proper food portions that meet students' calorie needs.
  5. Reduce saturated fats, trans fats, and sodium.
22 May 2020

What is an example of a healthy lunch? ›

Turkey sandwich with carrots and hummus

Arguably one of the easiest, most classic lunches there is. Throw together 2 slices of whole wheat bread, a few slices of turkey and your condiment of choice. Add some baby carrots and hummus on the side. Done.

What is a healthy daily lunch? ›

Make sure your lunch makes up a third of your daily intake. Choose lean meats, such as canned tuna, chicken breast or salmon. Or go vegetarian with a hard-boiled egg, beans or tofu or low-fat cheese. Hummus, nuts and low-fat cheeses are also great sources of protein.

What is unhealthy for lunch? ›

8 lunches you think are healthy, but actually aren't
  • Sushi can pack in the calories. ...
  • Restaurant or pre-made salads contain unhealthy added ingredients. ...
  • Deli sandwiches pile on the sodium. ...
  • Omelets are usually too big. ...
  • Veggie burgers are often not healthy, despite their name. ...
  • Wraps are often as unhealthy as sandwiches.
3 Aug 2018

What do parents pack for school lunch? ›

If you're helping pack a lunch, start by brainstorming foods and snacks that your kids would like to eat. Besides old faves like peanut butter and jelly, try pitas or wrap sandwiches stuffed with grilled chicken or veggies. Try soups and salads, and don't forget last night's leftovers as an easy lunchbox filler.

What is the healthiest thing I can eat for lunch? ›

Healthy People Usually Eat These 7 Things for Lunch
  1. Avocado and egg sandwich. ...
  2. Summer rolls with peanut sauce. ...
  3. Quinoa pear salad with spinach, cranberries and pecans. ...
  4. Protein Salad. ...
  5. Loaded Vegetable Sandwich. ...
  6. Lentil vegetable soup. ...
  7. Chicken burrito bowl with rice and beans.

What is the healthiest snack for school? ›

  • Applesauce (Unsweetened), Fruit Cups, and Canned Fruit. These have a long shelf life and are low-cost, easy, and healthy if canned in juice or light syrup. ...
  • Dried Fruit. ...
  • Frozen Fruit. ...
  • Fruit Leathers. ...
  • Fruit Salad. ...
  • Smoothies. ...
  • Deliveries. ...
  • Dips.

What is the number 1 healthiest food in the world? ›

Lemons. Lemons have been widely regarded in the health industry as the world's healthiest food. The sour fruit is an alkalising powerfood; they have strong anti-inflammatory qualities and can even help to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

What is the most balanced meal? ›

Balanced Meal Plate Examples

Toast + Avocado + Tofu Scramble with Spinach and Tomatoes. Pasta + Vegan Meatballs + Salad with Olive Oil. Baked Potato + Vegan Butter + BBQ Beans + Roasted Broccoli. Smoothie with Mixed Fruit + Protein Powder + Peanut Butter + Plant-Based Milk + Granola on Top.

What's allowed in school packed lunch? ›

only water, still or sparkling, fruit juice, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, yoghurt or milk drinks and smoothies. added salt, sugar or fat). Savoury crackers or breadsticks served with fruit, vegetables or dairy food are also a good choice.


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