Tips for a healthy lunchbox

It’s important that you give your child a healthy, balanced lunch to take to school. The information below gives some helpful tips for putting together a healthy, interesting lunchbox with plenty of variety.

Sandwiches

Sandwiches can be a tasty, filling and healthy addition to your child’s lunchbox.

Using a different type of bread each day can make lunchboxes more interesting. Try to keep a selection of breads in the freezer for sandwiches. Then you can just take out what you need for one day's lunchbox and defrost it on a plate or in the microwave.

You could try granary, wholemeal and raisin bread, multi-grain and seed rolls, mini wholemeal baguettes, bagels and wholemeal pitta.

If your child refuses to eat brown bread at first, try buying 'whole white' sliced bread (white bread made with one-third wholemeal flour). Or you could make a sandwich from one slice of whole white bread and one slice of wholemeal/brown bread.

Tips for healthy sandwiches

  • always try to add a little salad to a sandwich
  • try to use less butter or margarine and avoid mayonnaise if you can (or use lower-fat versions)
  • pick low-fat sandwich fillings, such as lean meats, including ham or turkey, fish (such as tuna or salmon), cottage cheese, Edam, mozzarella, or sliced banana

Something different

It’s a good idea to bring some variety to your child’s lunchbox. There are lots of different things you can add to a lunchbox which are healthy, filling options.

Soup

On cold days, you could give your child some soup in a vacuum flask, with some wholemeal or granary bread.

If you have time, you could make your own soup - tomato, chicken and sweetcorn, and vegetable soup are healthy options that are quick and easy to make.

You could add lentils and barley to thicken the soup but try to avoid adding salt. If you buy soup, try to choose varieties that are low in salt.

Salads

In the summer, salads are light and refreshing and full of essential vitamins and minerals. Try to include a variety of different ingredients, such as:

  • grated carrot
  • spinach
  • tomato
  • radish
  • seeds – such as sunflower, pumpkin, sesame or pine nuts
  • cooked aubergine
  • pepper slices
  • pieces of cooked turkey or chicken
  • pasta
  • rice and lentils
  • dried fruit – such as sultanas, raisins or chopped apricots
  • sweetcorn
  • tuna
  • avocado

Pizza

Home-made pizza is also a great choice for lunchboxes. On the pizza base, put a tomato and basil sauce/paste, mozzarella cheese and plenty of chopped vegetables, such as peppers, onion, mushrooms and sliced courgettes.

You could also make a mini pizza using a wholemeal muffin cut in half and topped with vegetables or ham. Toast this under a grill for a couple of minutes for a fun and different snack.

Healthier alternatives to sweets

Fruit salad makes a great dessert. You could make an exotic version with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and grapes, or a more traditional version with apples, bananas, grapes and oranges. This will count towards your child's five daily portions of fruit and vegetables.

Try the following tips for healthy snacks:

  • try adding a handful of dried fruit, such as raisins, apricots, figs or prunes
  • try different desserts, such as stewed fruit (without added sugar) - you could add some natural yoghurt to the fruit, or sprinkle some rolled oats and seeds on the top for extra crunch
  • instead of cakes, chocolates and biscuits, try scones, currant buns (without icing) and fruit bread
  • make sure that your child gets enough calcium by adding a slice of cheese, yoghurt (preferably sugar-free or low in sugar) or rice pudding, choosing low-fat versions where possible
  • don't forget to add some vegetables to your child's lunchbox, such as cherry tomatoes, or sticks of carrot, cucumber, peppers or raw sugar snap peas

Drinks

Always include a drink to go to keep your child hydrated and help them concentrate. Go for still or sparkling water, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, or unsweetened fruit juice.

You could also add a fruit smoothie made from natural yoghurt, mixed berries and maybe a dash of honey, or even a home-made milkshake (try mixing semi-skimmed milk with puréed strawberries or raspberries).

Reducing salt, fat and sugar in lunchboxes

When you're choosing foods for your child's lunchbox, always try to watch out for the levels of salt, fat and sugar. When buying food, you can find out how much salt, fat and sugar they contain by looking at the label.

Reducing salt

Follow these tips to watch your child’s salt intake:

  • always check food labels for the salt or sodium content - if sodium is listed and you want to convert this to salt, you multiply the sodium figure by 2.5
  • a product is high in salt if it contains 1.5g or more of salt per 100g or 0.6g or more of sodium per 100g
  • a product is low in salt if it contains 0.3g or less of salt per 100g or 0.1g or less of sodium
  • cut down on foods that are often high in salt, such as processed meat, cheese, and smoked fish
  • if you make your own foods (for example -  pasta, quiche, and bread) for your child's lunchbox, try to use less salt or leave it out altogether
  • when making sandwiches limit sauces and pickles because these are usually very high in salt

Reducing fat

Follow these tips to help control your child’s fat intake:

  • always check the food label for fat content
  • as a guide, a food is high in fat if it contains 20g or more of fat per 100g and is low in fat if it contains 3g or less per 100g
  • a food is high in saturated fat (also known as saturates) if it contains 5g or more per 100g and is low in saturated fat if it contains 1.5g or less per 100g
  • use butter, margarine, mayonnaise or salad dressings sparingly, or choose low-fat versions
  • use full-fat cheese or cheese spreads sparingly
  • watch out for meat pies, pasties, fried foods and salami, because these tend to be high in fat
  • choose lean cuts of meat and take the skin off chicken

Reducing sugar

Follow these tips to limit sugar in your child’s lunchbox:

  • always read the label of any food you are buying for your child's lunchbox - some foods can contain sugar that you might not expect to contain it
  • a product is high in sugar if it contains 15g or more of sugar per 100g
  • a product is low in sugar if it contains 5g or less per 100g
  • watch out on the ingredients list for other words used to describe sugar, such as sucrose, glucose (syrup), fructose, hydrolysed starch and invert sugar - the higher up the ingredients list they come, the higher in sugar the food is
  • avoid squashes (cordial) and sweet fizzy drinks
  • instead of sweets and chocolate, give your child fresh or dried fruit, vegetables sticks or seeds to snack on

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