5 Nutritionist-Designed School Lunch Boxes

Ninety-eight percent of school lunch boxes are ‘unhealthy’, according to a Leeds University study published this week. That’s pretty much every packed school lunch in the country.

The negative impact of this on our children’s health is tremendous. Lunches that are high in saturated fat and salt, and woefully low on lean protein, iron, vitamins, antioxidants and fibre, all lead to an increased risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and obesity in later life. It also impacts children’s day-to-day behavior and children who consume processed, high glycaemic index (GI) foods experience frequent ‘sugar rushes’ followed by energy troughs making it difficult for them to concentrate and to behave properly. Poor nutrition also reduces immunity, meaning children are more likely to need to take time off school with common coughs, colds and stomach bugs.

Want to ensure your child’s lunch box is healthy and nutritious? Remember the rule of five.

In line with government standards, the best approach to ensuring you are creating healthy lunch boxes for your children follows the rule of five: combining five key food categories (starch, protein, fruit, vegetable, dairy) in every single lunch box. WellVine’s lead nutritionist Katharina Howard has developed 5 simple yet fully balanced, nutritious lunch boxes to give parents some inspiration. You can also use the “mix and match” table below to create many more lunch boxes that will please even the fussiest of little eaters!

A totally egg-cellent box
A totally egg-cellent box

​ 1. Whole meal pitta bread has a low glycaemic index (GI) so will release energy throughout the afternoon, ensuring your child remains fuelled through the school day

2. Boiled eggs are a great source of protein and iron

3. Hummus is also a fantastic source of protein

4. Vegetable crudites (cucumber, yellow pepper, cherry tomatoes) are a good source of vitamins A, B, C and antioxidants

5. Raspberries contain vitamin C, vitamin K, antioxidants and fibre

6. Cubed cheddar cheese is a good source of calcium and protein

7. Water is by far the best way to ensure your child stays hydrated

The wrapstar box
The wrapstar box

​1. Whole meal wrap with cheese and veggies have a low glycaemic index (GI) so will release energy throughout the afternoon, helping your child concentrate in class. Cheese is a great filling as it is a good source of protein and the veggies provide necessary vitamins and antioxidants

2. Carrots and sugar snap peas are a great source of vitamins A, B, C and K and also a good source of iron and fibre

3. Guacamole is an excellent source of mono-saturated fatty acids, vitamins C and K, folic acid and fibre

4. Apples are a great source of vitamin C, fibre and antioxidants

5. Yogurt with some blueberries is a fantastic source of calcium and vitamin C

6. Water is by far the best way to ensure your child stays hydrated

Go faster pasta box
Go faster pasta box

1. Wholemeal pasta salad with tomato sauce and edamame beans. This is a great source of starchy carbohydrate, vitamin C and protein

2. Half an a avocado with cottage cheese is amazing for mono-saturated fats and calcium

3. Strawberries are fantastic for vitamin C

4. Raisins are a great source of iron and one of your child’s 5-a-day

5. Yogurt with a swirl of honey is another great source of calcium

6. Water is by far the best way to ensure your child stays hydrated

The busy bean's box
The busy bean's box

1. Oatcakes are a low glycaemic index (GI) food so will keep your child energised throughout the day and are fantastic source of fibre too

2. Team up the oatcakes with cottage cheese to give your child a great source of calcium

3. Homemade flapjacks are a good source of slow releasing carbohydrates, fibre and protein

4. A mixed bean salad is an excellent source of protein and iron that will release energy slowly throughout the day

5. Red pepper and cucumber veggie crudites are a great source of vitamin A, B and C vitamins and fibre

6. Satsumas are an excellent source of vitamin C and soluble fibre

7. Water is by far the best way to ensure your child stays hydrated

Fa-laugh-fal Box
Fa-laugh-fal Box

1. Falafels are a brilliant source of protein

2. Hummus is another great source of protein

3. Chopped radishes provide a great source of vitamin C

4. Steamed broccoli is a great lunch box vegetable as it is packed full of vitamin A, B, C and K, as well as folate

5. Kiwi is a highly nutritious fruit packed full of antioxidants and vitamin C and vitamin K

6. A cheese, such as babybel, is a good source of calcium and dairy

7. Water is by far the best way to ensure your child stays hydrated

"Mix and match" table for healthy lunchboxes
"Mix and match" table for healthy lunchboxes

Note: Nuts and nut butters are also excellent foods for providing a healthy protein source, beneficial fats and vitamins and minerals. We have omitted them from the table above as many schools have a nut-free policy to prevent allergic reactions in children with nut allergies.

Once you have created a nutritious lunch box, an equally important issue is ensuring your child will eat what is in it. We hope the following tips will be useful:

1) Invest in a lunch box with section dividers as it makes it easier to create a colorful and appealing meal.

2) Encourage your child to help prepare her/his lunch. This is a brilliant way to start giving them some ownership over their health and teaches them about food and nutrition. It can also be a useful way of encouraging fussy eaters to try new things.

3) Water is the healthiest drink for your child. If your child is not keen on water, try adding some slices of orange, lemon, lime or pineapple to their drink bottle to give the water a more interesting taste without adding highly processed squashes and cordials.

4) Consider portion sizes. As your children grow so will the amount they need to eat. A useful guide is to think of the size of your child’s hand. A portion of protein for them will be about the size they could fit in the palm of their hand. A portion of fruit or vegetables will be roughly a handful for your child.

And a couple of safety tips:

5) If you are including meat or fish in your child’s lunch box, it is a good idea to invest in a small freezer block to keep your child’s lunch cool and prevent food spoiling and to prevent the risk of food poisoning.

6) It can be difficult to remember how much salt is too much and also to work out the true salt content in a food item, because salt content can be listed either as salt or as sodium on food packets! Here is a useful reference guide showing the recommended maximum daily allowance of salt and sodium for children from 4 years old.

4-6 years: 3 grams of salt (1.2 grams sodium)

7-10 years: 5 grams salt (2 grams sodium)

11 years +: 6 grams salt (2.4 grams sodium)

Remember to check the labels of foods when you buy them.

The food your child eats on a daily basis affects their energy levels and the way they concentrate, behave, sleep and feel. It also has a huge impact on their health in later life. Teaching your child how to eat healthily when they are young is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.

About Katharina Howard

Katharina Howard is an experienced WellVine nutritionist specialising in early childhood and pregnancy nutrition. She is passionate about the role of food and diet in preventing ill health, improving mood, behaviour and sleep.

About WellVine

WellVine is the simplest way for parents and expectant parents to find, book and connect with highly experienced health professionals via online video calls – anywhere.

Healthy Back To School Lunch Ideas