Although it is only the end of September, you may be struggling to come up with new lunchbox ideas for your school aged children. It’s the perennial question that eludes mothers and fathers everywhere – how to pack a lunch that:

(a)    is  healthy

(b)   your child will eat and

(c)    is quick to prepare

Let’s first look at what ideally should go into a lunch box. Remember that the contents of the lunch box will contribute about 1/3rd of your child’s daily diet for 5 out of 7 days a week, assuming it is eaten. That’s a lot of food, so it’s important that those lunch boxes pack a nutritional punch.

2-3 Fruits & Vegetables Children need a minimum of 5 servings of fruit and veg a day in order to obtain all their nutrient needs, including vitamin C, potassium, folic acid and more.Very few kids are actually obtaining this goal.Fruits and veg are also a fantastic source of fibre. Fibre is filling. It also slows the absorption of the sugars, particularly from fruit. These qualities ensure your child will be comfortably full after recess and avoid a sugar-high and crash that can occur by drinking juice.


Keep it simple- raw crunchy veggies:

  • Sugar snap peas
  • Carrots
  •  Bell peppers
  • Radishes
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Raw cauliflower or broccoli
  • Snow peas
  • Zucchini or summer squash

Easy to pack fruits – apples,mandarin oranges, pears, bananas, berries, kiwi, plums, figs, prunes, apricots, chopped melon

1-2 Whole Grains / Starchy Vegetables Choosing whole grain products will not only provide more nutrients, but will keep your children satisfied for longer.Try to avoid sugar-laden refined flour products like store bought muffins, cookies, banana breads which will spike blood sugar and leave your children tired and hungry during afternoon classes
  • Quinoa
  • Brown & wild rice
  • Kamut & spelt whole grain salads
  • Whole grain breads, pitas, tortillas
  • Whole oat cake (Nairns, Walkers)
  • Yams, corn, peas, new potatoes
1 Protein Food Protein is also very satiating. It does not spike blood sugar and will keep your kids going until the 3 o’clock bell.It’s NOT just meat! Plant protein is a wonderful choice as it is high in protein, complex carbohydrates and fibre.Dairy products are also a good source of protein so these two components can overlap. Plant protein: black beans, chick peas, kidney beans, lentils, edamame and soy products.
Fish: canned salmon, skipjack tuna (1x/wk), mackerel, sardines, fresh shrimp.
Animal protein: eggs, turkey, chicken, nitrate-free ham, lean beef, pork tenderloin
1 Calcium Food Children need between 2-4 servings of calcium-rich foods a day depending on age. Drinking cow, soy, or almond milk with meals is an easy way to reach this goal.These products provide calcium and  vitamin D for growing bones
  • This includes dairy and alternatives such as soy, almond or rice milk
  • Choose sugar free options as much as possible:
  • Milk
  • Cottage cheese
  • Hard cheese
  • Natural unsweetened yogurt – sweeten with fresh fruit or ½ tsp of honey or maple syrup
Healthy Fats Healthy fats optimize brain health particularly in children.Healthy fats  have anti-inflammatory properties which are important in preventing heart disease and type-2 diabetes. (see:
  • When choosing fats aim for extra virgin olive oil over butter
  • Nuts are not allowed in schools but seeds & their butters are – pumpkin, sunflower, flax and sesame
  • Avocadoes
  • Fatty fish: canned salmon, mackerel & sardines

You can see that I focus a lot on foods that are satiating and slowly absorbed, like whole vegetables, fruits, protein and whole grains. This way, not only will children be meeting their nutritional needs but they will also be able to concentrate through their afternoon classes and stay energized for after school activities.


Luckily, lunch box containers and utensils have come a long way since the time I was taking a packed lunch to school. Freezer packs along with insulated lunch bags keep food cool until lunch time opening up a world of options like sushi for lunch or shrimp salad pitas.

Stainless steel containers with one, two, three or four compartments are also helpful in fostering creativity when packing the lunch, such as filling them up with a colourful trio of red pepper, sugar-snap peas and apricots.

Along with the usual thermos where you pour the contents into the attached mug, they now have thermal food containers which are short and squat. These are great for left-overs from the night before, for example, pastas, chilli, and thick soups. I like these for younger children as they don’t have to attempt pouring out hot liquids into a small mug. They can sip their soup straight out of the wider container opening.

The options are endless. Double-walled tiffin boxes can pack a great hot meal from chicken coconut curry to last night’s lasagne. Bento boxes are not just for sushi. Fill them up with a side of veggies, pinwheels and a hard-boiled egg that won’t get smashed.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER                                       2 weeks of lunch box ideas

  • Apple slices & blackberries
  • Left over turkey chilli & rice
  • Carrot sticks
  • Skim milk, soy milk or water *

*for all lunches

I’m starting with a left-over as I think people often overlook dinner as a great source of fast, delicious lunchbox fixings.  Always keep lunch in mind when preparing dinner and make a few extra portions. Use a tiffin box or wide thermos container to pack the chilli.
  • Kiwi  & trail mix
  • Salmon salad pita with cucumbers
  • Simple Waldorf salad



No nut trail mix – mix pumpkin, sunflower and flax seeds with a few raisins. Instead of the usual tuna sandwich, use a tin of canned salmon, add some lemon juice and a tsp of light mayo, mix. Slice cucumbers to add some crunch.Simple Waldorf salad is apple & celery lightly dressed with a light mayo & yogurt dressing (1:1 ratio). Add walnuts for stay-at-home lunches and pumpkin seeds for school lunches. 
  • Mixed berries in natural yogurt
  •  Cheesy Beans
  • Snow peas & sliced raw zucchini



Use a stainless steel sealed container for the yogurt & berries and place an ice pack at the bottom of your insulated lunch bag. Cheesy Beans: 1/2 tin of black beans, 1 tablespoon of favourite salsa, warm up and then grate cheese on top. Place in thermos. Can also do a cool mixed bean salad with simple vinaigrette.
  • Pineapple chunks in cottage cheese
  • 1-2 Tortilla Cigars
  • Bunch of grapes



A throw back to the 1970s. Combining a sweet fruit with protein-rich dairy is perfect recess snack. Tortilla cigars: use whole grain tortillas, spread with hummus, place crunchy peppers, cucumbers and dare I suggest jicama in the middle. Roll up like a cigar.
  • Chopped up melon + small “low-sugar” pumpkin muffin
  • Roast chicken slices with cauliflower and cheese
  • Dried apple slices


Try to find some time on a Sunday afternoon to prepare some easy muffins for the week. Double the recipe and freeze – a great recess snack.Left over roast chicken slices are an easy source of protein and why not combine with a childhood favourite of cauliflower and cheese kept warm in a wide thermos container.
  • Pear and mini babybel or cheese slices
  • Hummus or tzatziki with broccoli & bell peppers
  • Oatcake sandwich
A snacker’s lunch. For those who are not interested in combined foods (like a chilli), pack an assortment of nibbles for them to enjoy like a mini lunchtime buffet.With reusable snack bags, slicing a couple of pieces of cheese is much more economical than the pre-packaged mini-portions.Oatcake sandwich: 2 Nairns or Walkers oatcakes with pumpkin seed (or other school-safe) butter spread in middle.
  • Celery sticks with sunflower seed butter or herb cream-cheese
  • Greek Salad & half a pita with taramasalata
  • Dried fruit mix (prunes, apricots, mangoes etc)
Spread your child’s favourite seed butter inside the celery will transform a boring veg into a protein & healthy-fat filled treat.You may be surprised, but taramasalata is often very well received by children. It’s tangy and smooth and not at all fishy despite being made with carp or cod roe. It provides a source of unsaturated fatty acids and some vitamin D as well. Dried fruit contain concentrated sugars, yet retain the fibre of the fruit – a sweet treat you can be happy about.
  • A whole sliced orange or 2 mandarins
  • Ugly but Yummy Soup (Lentil & Veggie)*
  • Cottage cheese
  • 1 low-sugar cookie
* recipe below
This soup is not pretty, but it is delicious and has received two thumbs up from my own picky eater. Make a large batch so you can freeze and enjoy again the next week. Lentils provide a nutritional trifecta: protein, complex carbohydrates and fibre. Low-sugar cookies – do they exist? Only if you make them. Follow any regular cookie recipe but reduce the sugar by at least ½ and substitute whole grain flour for white flour.
  • 2 plums
  • Warm ratatouille
  • Pinwheels:
  • ham & spinach 
  • egg salad and watercress 
  • turkey & Swiss cheese or
  • smoked salmon & cream cheese


Plums are a very low-sugar fruit, loaded with fibre and easy to eat. If your child likes ratatouille make a bunch for dinner and reheat in morning for a warm serving of veggies on a cold day.Pinwheels – kids love these cute-looking treats. Choose a small whole grain tortilla, spread the contents evenly over the tortilla. Roll up tightly and cut. Lay flat on cut side in snug container so they don’t fall apart or use tooth picks to keep in place.
  • 2 apricots or a peach
  • Quinoa Salad*
  • Yogurt with ½ tsp honey 
Quinoa is a super-grain, filled with antioxidants, fibre and high in protein. Load it up with your child’s favourite veggies and a handful of chickpeas.  


Hopefully these ideas will give you something new to try with your little ones. I’d suggest not giving your child a brand new food in their lunchbox without first trying it at home. It’s likely to hit the garbage can without being touched.

Involve your children with the shopping and packing of their own lunch boxes. Let them choose which fruits and veg they would like to buy at the grocery shop and then give them a choice of which two to pack each day. They are more likely to eat them if they feel they had some input in choosing the foods.

If you have a spare hour on a Sunday afternoon, try to whip up a large batch of soup, chilli, curry or bake low-sugar muffins to have on hand for the week ahead.

Stock up your pantry, fridge and freezer with easy go-to options.

Here’s a sample shopping list:

Pantry Items Fridge/ Freezer
  • Seed butters (pumpkin, sunflower, soy butter)- chick peas, black beans, lentils, red kidney beans- oatcakes
  • Canned salmon
  • Skipjack tuna
  • Sardines
  • Honey or jam ( to sweeten yogurt)
  • Pumpkin puree – unsweetened (muffins)
  • Whole wheat pastas
  • Great grains: quinoa, brown rice, whole grain cous cous



  • Cheese
  • Greek yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Hummus
  • See fruit & veg list above


  • whole grain tortillas
  • whole grain pitas
  • edamame
  • frozen berries



Yes this was named by my daughter, but she drank it up and asked for it the next day in her lunch box.


2 tsp olive oil

1 medium sized onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 medium carrots, finely chopped

2 ribs celery, finely chopped

½ tsp turmeric

2 cups dried brown lentils, picked over and rinsed

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

2 cups cold water

Salt & Pepper

(optional: chopped cilantro to top)

Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, carrot, celery and turmeric and cook, stirring until vegetables begin to soften, about 2-3 minutes.  Add lentils, stock and water and bring to a boil. Partially cover the saucepan and reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until lentils are soft, about 45 minutes.

Transfer half the soup to a food processor or blender and pulse to lightly blend. Return soup to saucepan, stir to combine with unpureed soup. Season with salt and paper. Top with cilantro, if desired.

Bon Appetit!

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