How to pack the perfect healthy lunchbox

by Lauren Abbott

Despite an extension of the free school meals programme a year ago, around half of all schoolchildren still bring their own food to school, leaving many parents facing the daily chore of buying and preparing packed lunches.

And while mums may be happy to know and control what their offspring are eating, the job of making that boxed-meal varied and interesting should not be underestimated.

Jenny Tschiesche runs The Lunchbox Doctor website to provide recipes, lunchbox ideas and nutritional advice.

Healthy options for your lunchbox
Healthy options for your lunchbox

She says the typical school lunchbox consists of a white bread sandwich, often with a sweet filling.

"It's a common mistake to use white bread, and also to not use a protein filling," she said.

"A lot of parents will use jam or chocolate spread because they know their child will eat it. But there's no fibre in the white bread, and no protein in the filling, and that combined lack of sustenance means kids are likely to have a burst of energy which might last while they're running round the playground at lunchtime, but they'll be suffering an hour or two after that."

The mother-of-two also warns against too many cereal bars, which are often heavily laden with sugar, as well as yoghurt which may contain sugar or artificial sweeteners, colourings and flavourings.

“If you're a parent, you're busy by definition, and many products say 'ideal for lunchboxes'. That can mean it's attractive and colourful for the child, and simple to pack, but it doesn't mean it's ideal for the child's health, wellbeing and sustenance" she cautioned.

Picking the perfect lunch
Picking the perfect lunch

Instead, she advises parents try food such as carrot batons, baby sweetcorn, cucumber sticks or cherry tomatoes, with cream cheese or houmous - as children are more likely to eat vegetables if they've got something to dip them in.

Crackers or oatcakes can also be a healthy, easy-to-dip alternative to bread.

And if it has to be a sandwich, encouraging children to try a protein filling such as egg, cheese, ham, tuna or houmous, with a vegetable like tomato or cucumber may be a healthier more substantial choice.

As for the biscuit bars or sweet alternatives they often nag for?

Jenny Tschiesche advises: "Let them have the odd bar or whatever occasionally, but give them a smaller version of it, and explain why. Or make your own sweet foods, because you know what you've put in it."

We want to hear your top lunchbox tips! Let us know below.

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