Back to school – heart healthy lunchbox ideas

By Maeve O'Keeffe Nutrition News   |   26th Aug 2022

Preparing lunchboxes doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming.

As children return to school next week, many parents may be wondering how to best provide healthy lunches for their little ones. On hectic weekday mornings, trying to prepare nutritious lunches for children can feel like a chore, but there are plenty of ways you can quickly and easily pack lunchboxes with food that will fuel kids up for a busy day at school.

Buying a lunchbox:

Investing in a good lunchbox is always a good idea. Lunchboxes with different sections can be helpful to keep different foods separate and there are several inexpensive options available at supermarkets at this time of year. Leftovers from dinner is another great lunch option for the next day and a thermos flask or food container can help keep the food warm throughout the day. Don’t forget to pack a reusable water bottle for your child too. With very small children make sure that they can open and close their lunchbox themselves you may need to practice a few times before the big day.

Check in with children:

It’s great to include the little ones in lunchbox preparation. Giving your child a choice between different healthy options, like carrot sticks or chopped apple can build healthy habits. Check in with your child and ask them about portion sizes to make sure they’re not too full or too hungry.

Use our lunchbox checklist:

In terms of what you are packing into the lunchbox, it is recommended that you include a portion of fruit, a portion of vegetables or salad, a source of protein (like chicken or tuna), a portion of dairy (like cheese, yoghurt, or milk), and a source of high-fibre carbohydrate. Remember to include a sugar free drink like a bottle of tap water for your child too. By keeping this simple checklist in mind, you can make sure your child is well on their way to meeting their dietary requirements every day.

Fabulous fruit:

A piece of fruit is an ideal lunchbox-filler for your child’s first small break at school. Halved grapes, strawberries, blueberries, peeled segments of Mandarin orange, or chopped up apple or melon are all popular choices. To stop chopped fruit from going brown, add a squeeze of lemon juice.

Getting into a steady routine is key when it comes to children heading back to school.


Superstar sandwiches:

Sandwiches are a beloved lunchbox staple because they are quick and easy to prepare. You can boost the nutritional value of a simple sandwich by making some healthy swaps, like replacing white bread with wholegrain or wholemeal alternatives to include more fibre in your child’s diet. Mixing it up between bread rolls, pitta bread and wraps can add variety. You can freeze different kinds of bread and take them out the night before so that you are always stocked with different sandwich options which prevents kids from getting fed up with certain foods.

Try to include some salad in sandwiches and wraps if possible, as it’s an easy way to boost children’s vegetable intake. Even the fussiest of eaters might try a few leaves of peppery rocket or mild iceberg lettuce in their sandwich, and you can then build up to including more veg, like tomatoes or cucumbers.


Cut down on fat and salt:

Try to reduce the saturated fat content of the lunchbox. Simply choosing lean meats like chicken or turkey, or fish for sandwiches or wraps is a healthy way of including protein for growing kids. Don’t add salt to children’s sandwiches. This will help prevent them from developing a taste for salt.

Avoid sugary options:

A pot of yoghurt is a great way to make sure your child is getting enough calcium for their growing bones and teeth but beware of over-sweetened varieties. Reduced sugar and low-fat yoghurts are much healthier and can be sweetened by mixing in some fruit. Just be sure that you place the yoghurt tub in a securely closed lunchbox, to avoid a schoolbag yoghurt explosion.

Cereal bars, smoothies, and yoghurt drinks can also contain lots of hidden sugars, so check the nutrition label using our food shopping card and try to select the healthiest option available. Better still, swap out processed options for pieces of chopped fruit or vegetable sticks with a flavoured hummus of their choice.

Be prepared:

Getting into a steady routine is key when it comes to children heading back to school. Some people are early birds and prefer to make the lunches ready that morning while others prepare lunchboxes the night before, then pop them in the fridge overnight ready for school the next day.

Using leftovers from dinner can be a great time-saver when it comes to preparing children’s lunches. Leftover chicken and meat can be used in sandwiches and wraps, and you can toss leftover pasta in some pesto for a delicious lunch with some peas or chopped tomatoes.


Older children can get more involved in preparing their lunchboxes, and healthy habits built through school routines can last a lifetime.


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