Are you struggling with inspiration on what to put in your child’s lunchbox? It can be hard to make healthy, quick recipes that are cost-effective. That’s why we’ve come up with sweet and savoury ideas that can be made in bulk – making busy school mornings easier for you.
If you can encourage healthy habits in your family from a young age, you’ll support healthy growth and development, and reduce the risk of developing cancer and other chronic diseases later on in life. Our Eat Move Learn resources for families teach children about how to eat healthily and be active in a fun, interactive way – and all our resources are free.
Importance of a varied diet
Eating a healthy diet rich in wholegrains, vegetables, fruit and beans not only helps protect against cancer but can also improve overall health and help with energy levels. Getting at least 5 portions of fruit and veg a day will provide your kids with essential nutrients. We have information on portion sizes for children, but it’s sometimes helpful to follow a healthy plate model, where 1/2 your plate is fruit or veg, 1/4 protein and 1/4 starchy carbohydrates (read on for more on these).
For a great lunchbox that will be popular with your children, pick 1 from each food group:
- Hard-boiled egg
- Chicken (we recommend you avoid processed meat such as ham)
- Plant proteins such as chickpeas
- Hummus (read on for our falafel recipe)
Our expert Kendra Chow, who is a registered dietitian and works in World Cancer Research Fund’s Policy team, says:
When choosing yoghurt, high protein, low sugar options such as Greek yoghurt are best – beware the sugar content of yoghurts marketed at children.
Starchy carbohydrates and whole grains
- Bread (including roti, chapati, wraps, pitta, rolls and more)
- Rice cakes (without added sugar or salt)
- Healthy pizza
Wholemeal, wholegrain and brown options are best as they contain the most fibre.
> You can find more sandwich filling inspiration here.
Fruit can get bruised in a lunchbox so wrap pears, apples, plums or easy peelers in a piece of kitchen roll. Or fill a tupperware pot with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, melon, guava, lychee, passion fruit, pomegranate, tinned fruit
You can also offer dried fruit such as raisins, sultanas, apricots, mango or cranberries.
Dried fruit has a higher sugar content so children should eat smaller portions and only at mealtimes to protect their teeth from decay. Frozen or canned fruit and vegetables are also healthy options. Choose ones packed in water or juice (for fruit) and not syrup, and have no added salt (for vegetables).
- Sugar snap peas
Pair vegetables with protein options such as a hummus or yoghurt-based dip for extra flavour.
This traditional Middle Eastern food is packed with protein and is super delicious for your kids to enjoy. It’s normally served with pitta bread and salad, but you could pair it with a homemade tzatziki dip for extra flavour.
To make the falafel go a long way, and to add variation so your kids won’t get tired of it, you can even add it into sandwiches or wraps with crunchy salad.
Falafel is also high in fibre, which helps with your kids’ digestion and nutrient absorption throughout the day.
Snacks for lunchboxes or after school
Many children will look for the snack or treat in their lunchbox before anything else. You can be confident that these energising recipes are made with a minimum amount of sugar so your kids can avoid having an afternoon slump or feeling tired after a sugar rush!
Our healthy and delicious golden flapjacks are easy to make, they’ll also taste better than any shop-bought processed versions. This recipe is a crowd pleaser for children and you can vary the dried fruits for different flavours and textures (using figs, cranberries or raisins).
Flapjacks include oats which are great for your kids as they release energy slowly, helping to keep them focused at school.
Who doesn’t love a muffin? And even better – these tasty ones are healthy too. Made with bran flakes and wholemeal flour which are high in fibre, and fresh fruit to give it a lovely sweetness.
Remember to be mindful of those with nut allergies and if your kids’ school is nut-free, substitute the nuts with pumpkin seeds which also include healthy fats.
These spiced apple squares are a perfect snack for your little one and are packed with healthy ingredients. Low in sugar, this recipe uses raisins to add sweetness. You can try a mix of different spices and dried fruit to vary the flavour and texture.
All of these snacks and many more can be found on our recipes website – and they also work brilliantly as after school snacks.
Top tips: prepare ahead and engage the kids
- Set aside time at the weekend to batch-prepare lunches for the week; keep prepared items like cut up vegetables and fruits or sandwiches in the freezer or fridge so you can grab-and-go each day.
- Use containers that are easy for your child to open and portion out their food; bento boxes can be a fun option to keep food separate (picky eaters tend to not want their food items to touch each other!) and keep track of portions.
- Repurpose your leftovers: use leftover chicken from dinner as sandwich fillings or to include in a salad; pack leftover vegetables to eat on the side.
- Get the kids involved early on. Taking your kids to the shop and teaching them how to put together a healthy shopping list so they learn early on. And check out our advice from Raffaella Masseli, who runs our Eat Move Learn programme on how to get children involved in food preparation.
- Growing your own fruit and veg can be a good start to teaching your kids where fruit comes from and even better, it can save you money in the long run. You don’t need a big garden either, you can start growing from a bucket.
On the blog
- 10 ways to avoid food waste
- How to fit in 5 a day for kids
- Top tips on feeding fussy eater
- Is your child eating the right amount
Kendra Chow is a registered dietitian who works with our Policy team, helping to make healthy choices the easy choices in the UK and around the world.