How to create nutritious school lunches that your kids will actually eat

Sponsored: With different rules for different schools about what is and isn’t allowed in your child’s lunchbox, providing a healthy, balanced lunch while meeting the energy needs of a growing child can be a bit of a mine field. But don’t panic.

Waitrose & Partners is inviting you to come closer to inspiration with a collection of tips and recommendations to help you make a healthy lunchbox that not only meets school requirements, but will also be gobbled up by your kids.

Top tips and recommendations:

Aim for at least 1 of your child’s 5 a day. As a guide, a child’s portion is the amount of fruit or vegetable they can fit in their hand.  Dried fruit counts too, such as raisins, but try not to include dried fruit too often as it can stick to teeth. Perfect for the lunchbox are bananas, sliced grapes, satsumas and clementines, apples & pears, carrot sticks, cucumber and red pepper slices.  If your child leaves their fruit and vegetables each day you could try an alternative such as a fruit smoothie or a dried fruit snack or try cutting melon into various shapes to tempt them.

Have a daily protein source. Protein is important for your child’s growth. Meat, fish, eggs and beans are great protein sources that can be incorporated easily into your child’s lunch box. Sliced chicken, egg mayonnaise or tuna are perfect sandwich fillers and sliced hard boiled eggs are a great source of protein which travel well in a lunch box. If you need a change from sandwiches, why not add mixed beans and tuna to a pasta salad.

Include a starchy food every day. Starchy foods like bread, pasta, rice and cereals provide energy and fibre. Try to pick wholegrain varieties where possible to increase your child’s fibre intake. If your child isn’t keen on the wholegrain versions of bread, pasta and rice then try half ‘n’ half. Great examples are ‘best of both’ bread, mixing half white, half wholegrain for pasta and rice, or mixing high fibre cereals into regular cereals. As this food group usually makes up the biggest part of lunch, it’s important to vary it. Think about a wholemeal wrap one day, pasta salad the next or how about a bagel half or some sliced wholemeal pitta bread?

Add a daily portion of dairy to your child’s lunchbox. Dairy provides an excellent source of calcium which is important for your child’s growing bones.  Milk is the top choice to have as a drink for lunch, but yogurts and cheese sticks are good additions to your child’s lunch box or include cheese as the sandwich filling or low fat cream cheese as a dip for vegetable sticks.  If you choose non-dairy alternatives such as soya milk or yogurt, pick varieties which are fortified with calcium.  Other non-dairy sources of calcium include dried fruits, particularly figs and apricots. Top tip: encourage your child to end their lunch with a piece of cheese as this can help protect teeth from acid erosion.

Include oily fish now and again. Oily fish is a great source of Omega 3 fats.  Salmon and mackerel make tasty sandwich fillers or as an accompaniment to pasta or rice.  If your child refuses to eat oily fish (most do!) then you could try Waitrose Omega 3 chicken or Intelligent eggs as both these products provide comparable amounts of Omega 3 to oily fish.  And don’t worry if you can’t get Omega 3 sources into your child’s lunch, just remember to include it in a meal at home or consider a supplement as children’s versions are available.

Pick healthier snacks over crisps. Some schools have a ban on crisps so it’s good to know there are some tempting, healthier alternatives available, like dried fruit such as Waitrose Dried Mango, or breadsticks, crackers, rice cakes and vegetable sticks with Waitrose hummus or Waitrose World Deli Sweet Potato Falafels. If your school does allow crisps, then opt for reduced salt versions or try unsalted. You can even get lentil crisps and baked vegetable crisps for a healthier crunch. Savoury mixed seeds are a great alternative, but do check your school’s allergen policy as some mixes contain sesame seeds.

Did you know?

  • Apple slices won’t go brown if you add a little lemon juice to them before putting in a sealed container.
  • A 200ml glass of milk provides 55% of your child’s daily calcium needs
  • Omega 3 essential fatty acids help to maintain normal functioning of the heart, brain and vision as part of a healthy, balanced diet and lifestyle
  • A small 10g bag of salted popcorn provides nearly 2g of fibre
  • Children’s stomachs are small so you need to think energy dense foods rather than large portions. Examples of energy dense foods include nut butters (if your school policy allows nuts), dried fruit snacks and cheese
  • You can keep your child’s lunchbox cool by adding an ice pack or freeze their drink or yoghurt, which should defrost by lunchtime

How to encourage fussy eaters:

  • Invest in some cookie cutters to vary the shape of your sandwiches
  • Get your kids to help put together their lunchbox if you have some time the night before to give you more idea of what they like and dislike the most
  • Include a treat to keep it interesting. It doesn’t have to be unhealthy, just something to make it more exciting. Some great ideas are mini biscuits, dried fruit based snacks, mini flapjacks or cereal bars

If you enjoyed this story, you may be interested in learning more about healthy back-to-school recipes here.