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School lunchbox shopping list: Don’t be boxed in by unhealthy choices

Tuesday 31 January 2017

A lunchbox full of healthy food>
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There are lots of ways to get creative with lunchboxes.

If you’re a parent or carer of children, lots of tasks are competing for your attention.

By the time you hit the supermarket aisle after a big week, it can feel overwhelming and lead to you reaching for easy food and drink choices that may not be best for your children’s health.

Luckily, arming yourself with some simple tips, shopping suggestions and recipes early in the school year will set you up for success.

1. Focus on variety

No matter what your child’s weight, height, gender or age, they need to eat from the five core food groups every day.

Fruit and vegetables, wholegrain or rice based bread and crackers*, meat or a meat alternative and reduced fat dairy such as cheese -  cottage cheese and cream cheese – should be the building blocks. Buy in bulk or get fresh fruit and vegetables that are in season to help keep the cost down.

Snacks are important too. Like adults, kids need to feel enticed by something tasty or they may lose interest. Cheese & crackers, homemade pikelets, and an occasional sweet item (but not every day) can help teach your kids about a balanced diet.

See some of our ideas in action below (suggestions continue after the video):

* Be aware of nut or other allergies that may rule some foods out completely.

2. Make a plan

Sometimes paper beats technology! Having a simple 5-day planner on your fridge or whiteboard where you’ll see it will keep you on track.

Divide your plan into four categories that will keep you focused on the core elements of a healthy lunch and you've got a simple formula to follow every day. Here's what you'll want to cover:

  • Main item: whether it’s a wholegrain sandwich, pasta, a frittata or a wrap, you want to anchor a healthy school lunch with something  nutritious, tasty, and filling. Items that are high in protein, fibre, and healthy fats can leave young stomachs feeling full for longer.
  • 1-3 serves of fruit and vegetables: packed full of nutrients and energy for growing bodies
  • A serve of reduced fat dairy: help ensure children develop healthy teeth and bones
  • A healthy snack: try something home-made and avoid pre-packaged foods that are high in sugar and starch.

Make sure children have plenty of water available to drink too. Sometimes a frozen drink bottle can help keep it cool. Using an insulated lunch box or frozen foods to keep the food cold until eaten.

Our shopping list at the end of the article gives you options for every category.  Why not print it out or take it with you on your mobile?

3. Get creative with preparation

  • Mix up your fruit and veggies – you can chop up different coloured veggies for dipping, make fruit kebabs and freeze fruit like grapes and oranges, or cut watermelon in interesting shapes or slices.
  • Remember to involve your children – let them be creative. Take them shopping and let them help choose fruits and vegetables and other healthy options for their lunchbox. They can also help prepare and pack their own school lunchbox.
  • Why not be inspired by other food traditions? Bento boxes and sushi can help you add variety.

4. Be inspired by some simple recipes

Over at Healthier. Happier. we’ve got some recipes that are easy to prepare and can help jazz up your lunches throughout the week. Putting a little time into preparing and shopping well will pay off.

5. Anchor your plan with a great shopping list

Often the healthiest shopping list will be one that caters to the meals you are preparing at home, rather than  highly packaged foods designed for lunch boxes. Here’s a guide to get you started:

Breads and cereals

  • Wholegrain crackers
  • Pita bread
  • Rice crackers
  • Wholegrain bread or bread rolls

Fruit

  • Oranges
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Bananas
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Watermelon
  • Strawberries or other berries

Vegetables

  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Lettuce 
  • Avocado
  • Capsicum 
  • Cucumber
  • Sweet corn
  • Cherry tomatoes

Dairy

  • Reduced fat cheese
  • Reduced fat cottage cheese
  • Reduced fat cream cheese
  • Reduced fat mayonnaise
  • Yoghurt

Lean meats & poultry

  • Sliced chicken
  • Sliced ham
  • Tinned tuna or salmon
  • Eggs

Snacks

  • Tinned fruit
  • Hummus dip
  • Rice crackers
  • Air-popped popcorn
Last updated: 20 February 2017