What are the components of a healthy lunchbox?

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A well-balanced and nutritious lunchbox is like a mini treasure chest, brimming with the essential nutrients your child needs to fuel their day and support their growth and development. Crafting the perfect lunchbox may seem like a daunting task, but it’s a small yet crucial step toward ensuring your child’s health and well-being. In this guide, we will explore the key components that make up a healthy lunchbox, equipping you with the knowledge and inspiration to pack delicious and nourishing meals that your child will love!

A healthy lunchbox should include a variety of foods from different food groups…

  • Starch

Bread, potatoes, pasta, whole-wheat biscuits, Provitas, or Ryevitas. These foods provide carbohydrates, which are the main source of energy for the body and brain. Choose whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread, pasta or popcorn. These foods also provide fibre, which helps with digestion and keeps your child feeling full for longer. Baby potatoes with the skin on, drizzled with a small amount of extra virgin olive oil can be a great alternative if they get bored with bread.

This will be something every mom can relate to… Have you seen kids eat a sandwich? They take 2 bites from the middle and then leave the rest because they do not want to eat the crust. You can do one of 2 things. Try to fight a losing battle by trying to get them to eat the whole sandwich. Or you can just give up (I did) and trim the smallest piece of crust off. I cut 2 mm off all around, and voilà! Now she eats the whole triangle. This way the waste is minimal, and the doves get some bread for breakfast.

  • Fruits and vegetables

Fresh or dried fruits and vegetables. These foods provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, which help protect the body from diseases and infections. They also provide water and fibre, which help with hydration and bowel health. Aim to include at least one serving of fruit and one serving of vegetables in your child’s lunchbox every day. A serving is about the size of your child’s fist. Choose a variety of colours and textures to make the lunchbox more appealing and diverse.

Cut the fruit and vegetables into the appropriate size according to your child’s age. Peeling some fruits and vegetables is also essential for younger kids.

Make sure you choose dried fruit that is not sugar-coated. If you know your child will leave out the vegetables and rather eat the fruit, alternate between fruit and vegetables. For example: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday they get a portion of fruit. Tuesday and Thursday they get a portion of vegetables (cut cucumber, cherry tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers).

Try to not make items compete. If you know your child is not particularly fond of a specific item, add another non-favourite to the lunchbox. If you know they love carrots, pair it with a fruit that they also love. Otherwise, they will always just pick the favourite item and leave out the rest.

  • Protein foods

Lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans, peas, nuts, seeds, milk, cheese, or yogurt. These foods provide protein, which is essential for building and repairing muscles, organs, skin, hair, nails, and blood. They also provide iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin B12, and other nutrients that are important for growth and development. Dairy products also provide calcium and vitamin D, which are important for bone health.

Avoid processed meats (such as ham, Vienna’s, polony, or salami), which are high in salt and saturated fat. Instead, choose lean cuts of meat (such as chicken breast or turkey slices) or plant-based proteins (such as beans or tofu). A more practical alternative for lunchboxes is biltong or ‘droëwors’, they are heat and staircase-resistant and have a low risk of spoiling. Eggs might seem like a great idea, but please remember that your child needs to maintain their dignity. Eggs do start to smell in a container.

  • Healthy fats and oils

Vegetable oils (extra virgin olive or canola oil), nuts (almonds or walnuts), seeds (sunflower or pumpkin seeds), and avocados. These foods provide essential fatty acids (such as omega-3s), which are important for brain function and heart health. They also provide vitamin E, which is an antioxidant that protects the cells from damage.

Use fats sparingly and choose unsaturated fats over saturated fats. Saturated fats mainly come from animal sources of food (such as butter or cream) and can raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. Avoid trans-fats (such as margarine), as these can lower good cholesterol (HDL) and raise bad cholesterol (LDL) levels.

Always consider the practicality of an item and how well it will travel. Seeds and nuts are good options for adding healthy fats and some protein to a lunchbox. Nutbutters are also great, they can be individually packed or spread on sandwiches.

  • Water

Water is essential for hydration, temperature regulation, digestion, and metabolism. Water also helps transport nutrients and oxygen throughout the body and removes waste products. Encourage your child to drink plenty of water throughout the day.

Avoid sugary drinks (such as sodas or fruit juices), which can cause tooth decay, obesity, sugar spikes and diabetes. If your child prefers flavoured drinks, choose low-sugar options (such as water with lemon or mint) or unsweetened tea.

Try to “manipulate” the process by always balancing the items out with each other as well. If they get a naartjie, banana or apple (which are considered larger fruits), do not pack juice with that. If you want to add juice to the lunchbox, try and pair it with smaller fruits like blueberries, strawberries, gooseberries or kiwi.

So, what is the takeaway message?

Creating a healthy and enticing lunchbox for your child involves a thoughtful combination of essential food groups. Incorporating starch for sustained energy, a colorful array of fruits and vegetables for vital nutrients, protein sources for growth and repair, healthy fats for brain function, and encouraging hydration through water ensures a balanced and nourishing meal. Practical considerations, such as trimming crusts or choosing convenient items, can enhance the appeal and minimize waste, contributing to your child’s overall well-being and development.


We have delved into the essential components of a healthy lunchbox, each playing a pivotal role in nourishing your child’s body and supporting their overall well-being. Crafting a lunchbox that is both nutritious and appealing may seem like a formidable task, but it’s a small yet significant gesture toward ensuring your child’s health. While putting a nutritious lunchbox together, remember the art of balance itself. Pairing items thoughtfully and considering practicality in terms of travel and storage can make the task more manageable. This not only provides them with nourishment but also sets the stage for healthy eating habits that can last a lifetime! CLICK HERE to read 5 Top Tips for packing a healthy lunchbox.

Spread the health, every byte counts
Wilna Eksteen

Wilna Eksteen

Registered Dietitian

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