5 Top Tips for packing a healthy lunchbox

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Packing a nutritious and appealing lunchbox for your child is a daily challenge for many parents. It’s not just about providing sustenance but also ensuring that the meal is well-balanced, safe to consume, and enjoyable. In this guide, we’ll explore a set of practical tips that will transform the lunchbox-packing routine into a smoother and more satisfying experience…

  • Plan ahead

Make a weekly menu and shopping list based on your child’s likes, dislikes, allergies, and school rules. Involve your child in the planning and preparation process to increase their interest and acceptance of the foods. Try and keep non-perishables staples on hand. Some examples that I always have in my pantry to help assist with packing a lunchbox when it is Friday and you have run out of everything: tetra pack Milo drinks, biltong/droëwors (biltong powder for smaller kids), Kiri cheese triangles, dried fruit, roasted coconut flakes, individually packed whole-wheat biscuits, rice cakes, nut-butter sachets and nuts. Choose a starch and protein, add a fresh fruit and or vegetable and you’re done.

Packing lunch boxes for the whole week is not always that practical. Trying to establish what items will last until Friday and what will be soggy by Wednesday limits your options quite a bit. But planning on paper might save you some time. Older kids can also easily pack their own lunches according to your planning.

  • Keep it simple

Choose easy-to-prepare and easy-to-eat foods that your child can enjoy without much fuss. Cut fruits and vegetables into bite-sized pieces, use whole-wheat wraps or pita bread instead of sliced bread, or make mini sandwiches or muffins. Do not pack too much food. You know how much your child can comfortably consume in one sitting. Take into consideration that they might be distracted, and on their own. This is aimed at younger kids – mom is not there to remind them every 30 seconds that they must eat.

I also take into consideration what activities they have at school that specific day and what will be done after school. If they are having sport at school, I will maybe pack extra juice with the water or a dried fruit and a fresh fruit. If I know that my child has extra mural activities directly after school I will pack in a bit more food (I know she will not finish it) and then she will have what is left for lunch in the car. No need to specifically pack lunch as well, it saves you some time. Having a ‘left-over’ lunchbox lunch reduces waste and now you are there to remind them to eat every 30 seconds. The not-so-favourite foods will at least be eaten eventually.

This might get me the worst-mom-of-the-year-award. I do recycle food items. If only half of the sandwich is eaten, you will get the other half tomorrow. If you bit into your strawberry, I will cut off the bitten piece and you will get a ‘freshly cut’ strawberry tomorrow. The small pieces of droëwors will be saved for next week, and the half-eaten cheese stick will now be thinly sliced and will magically appear on your sandwich the next day. This is all done with a bit of discretion, I make sure that everything is still safe to eat and clean. If you throw away the leftover lunchbox items every day, you will become discouraged (and broke). Rather get creative!

  • Keep it safe

Use an insulated lunch bag or box to keep the food cold and fresh. The contents of the lunchbox will usually be consumed after a couple of hours from leaving home. No need to be too concerned about food spoiling. This might be more applicable if lunchboxes are packed way in advance and kept in the fridge. I recommend that you have your non-perishables organised into bags and kept in the pantry. Take these already packed items and add fresh fruit/veg to the lunchbox the night before. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly and dry them well. Sandwiches tend not to stay fresh too long, so try making them the night before. Avoid foods that can spoil easily, such as mayonnaise, cream cheese, meats, and eggs. Label your child’s lunchbox with their name and any allergies they may have.

  • Keep it fun

Add some variety and creativity to your child’s lunchbox by using different shapes, colours, textures, and flavours. Mix and match different foods to make new combinations, such as apple and peanut butter sandwich, cheese and grape skewers, or hummus and carrot dip. Include a small treat once in a while, such as a homemade cookie, a piece of dark chocolate, or a dried fruit bar.

Use cookie cutters to make fun shapes out of bread, cheese, or fruit. This can be very time-consuming and I don’t think your matric son will appreciate a heart-shaped sandwich. Smaller kids will love it, but the wastage is quite high. It’s okay for children to consume food in their natural state. Making something into a fun shape that my kid does not like is not going to convince them to start liking it. It will definitely convince them to play with it. There is no harm in having fun with food, food should be a multi-sensory experience. But there should be no pressure on you for spending hours trying to cut stars and hearts out of a cucumber and bell peppers just to feed it to the turtle after school.

  • Keep it balanced

Aim to include at least one food from each food group in your child’s lunchbox every day. Use the South African food guide1 as a reference to see how much of each food group your child needs per day. Adjust the portions according to your child’s age, appetite, and activity level.

Conclusion

The art of packing a nutritious and enjoyable lunchbox for your child is a daily mission that combines care, creativity, and practicality. The tips we’ve explored in this guide are designed to simplify this task. Not only will you make your child’s daily lunch a delightful experience, but you will also instil healthy eating habits that can last a lifetime. CLICK HERE to read about some Age-appropriate lunchbox ideas.

References

  1. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Food-based dietary guidelines – South Africa. Available here. Access date: 22 September 2023.
Spread the health, every byte counts
Wilna Eksteen

Wilna Eksteen

Registered Dietitian

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