Packed Lunches and Your Child: What should they be eating..?

Recently SR Nutrition was asked to appear on BBC Radio Two for a quick chat about Children’s Lunch Boxes! Unfortunately because we’re so busy of late, we couldn’t make it, so thought we would write some tips and information here; it certainly seems to be a popular topic at the moment.


Recent reports have suggested that the Government is considering a proposal to ban lunchboxes in a bid to support the new ‘healthy’ school meals, which have been introduced (that is another story). However children’s lunchboxes always seem to be an important issue, and are especially a huge challenge for parents. How many times can you keep sending the same apple to school before giving up offering a portion of fruit at all?


The trouble mainly stems from the fact that healthy eating simply isn’t “cool”. Additionally the crisps, biscuits and sugary drinks that were once an occasional treat have now become the lunchbox staple and therefore many parents feel they need to conform for fear of their children being left out or even picked on.


Many schools are introducing “Lunchbox Policies” to help tackle this, but there is a lot of resistance from both school children and parents alike. Many feel that they should be able to feed their child as they like. However, with obesity statistics still soaring and one in three children in Year 6 being overweight or obese, (boys 35.4%, girls 32.4%) it seems that something, somewhere needs to change.


Children need a wide variety of nutrients and plenty of energy throughout the day; after all, they are still growing and developing at varying rates. This means that main meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – are all essential to provide children with a good source of energy, as well as a high dose of their daily macro-nutrient (protein, fats, carbohydrates) and micro-nutrient (vitamins, minerals) needs.


Therefore children’s lunch boxes need to include the essential foods that will provide a good balance of their daily nutrient needs.  It is recommended that children’s lunchboxes should contain:

  • Some starchy food – e.g. wholemeal bread, wraps, pasta or crackers
  • A portion of fruit AND a portion of salad or vegetables
  • A portion of dairy food – e.g. small piece of cheese, a small yoghurt or a carton of milk
  • A portion of protein rich food – e.g. tuna, slices of meat, nuts or seeds, egg or beans
  • A HEALTHY drink – e.g. milk, water, 100% juice or a smoothie


For example:

–       A wholemeal sandwich with tuna and sweetcorn

–       An apple

–       A small yoghurt

–       A bottle of water

For more examples and lunchbox ideas please see our Healthy Lunchbox Blog.


However it is all well and good offering great lunchboxes, but getting children to eat the food you offer is another thing. Here are some tips and ideas on how to go about this:

1.)  First and foremost don’t pack their lunchbox with high fat and high sugar foods such as sweets, crisps and biscuits. Doing this only means that they will fill up on these ‘empty calories’ first and avoid eating the nutrient dense sections of their lunchbox!

2.)  Offer them choice – try changing what you offer day to day, but also involve your child by giving them options that they can choose from. This means that they are more likely to feel like the food offered was their choice, rather than simply what they were given.

3.)  Get them involved in preparing the lunchbox – children often eat more food when they know they contributed to its making.

4.)  Add in some little extras – including little toys, a note, some pretty ribbons or decorations to your child’s lunchbox can really make the lunchbox a little more special and can be a good way to get your children excited about lunchtime.

5.)  Include practical tools – plastic knives and forks, napkins and ice packs ensure your child’s lunchbox stays fresh and makes foods easier to eat.

6.)  Listen to their likes and dislikes – if your child doesn’t like apples there is no point continually offering them. Ask them to let you know what foods they do like and keep a list of these so you know it is something they will enjoy.

7.)  Pack a variety of food – offering different types of bread as well as wraps, hot cross buns, rolls and bagels help to stop your children getting bored with the same old lunch. Additionally try to reduce waste by using leftovers from the evening meal for their lunchbox the next day.

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