How to pack up a healthy option for big school return

Healthy filled lunch box with whole meal bread vegetables and milk
Healthy filled lunch box with whole meal bread vegetables and milk
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The bell is about to ring on a new school year.

And as kids prepare to head back to class, parents are being urged to make some New School Year Resolutions in a bid to ensure their children eat healthily away from home.

Healthy option: A mother and son chop tomatoes and cucumbers.

Healthy option: A mother and son chop tomatoes and cucumbers.

Jamie Oliver did his bit to make school dinners more nutritious. But for children who take packed lunches to school the weight falls squarely on the shoulders of their parents.

And it’s not easy, day in, day out, having to fill lunchboxes with foodstuff kids actually want to eat - and which give them the nutrients they need for energy, growth and concentration.

“It is too easy to go down the usual route of packets of salty savoury snacks crisps, bars of chocolate, fizzy drinks and the same old boring sandwich day after day. Many adults wouldn’t accept eating the same things day in day out, so why should children?” says the British Dietetic Association, the nation’s largest organisation of food and nutrition registered professionals

Sharon Lowry, dietetics manager for Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, agrees: “Children’s diets when they are young have a massive impact on their health and their eating habits for life, so it is essential we get the younger generation choosing and enjoying healthy nutritious food.

“At the Trust we encourage mums and dads to choose healthy foods for the family. They need to provide their children with the energy and sustenance to grow and develop healthily and help them to concentrate in school,” adds Sharon.

“Packed lunches can be made as exciting as you like - there are lots of fun and healthy options available on the shelves now.”

The British Dietetic Association, which uses the most up to date public health and scientific research on food, health and disease, has these handy tips to help parents create healthy packed lunches that are as full of flavour and variety as they are vitamins and nutrients...

Back to basics - bread, cereals and potatoes

Try to keep a selection of breads in the freezer for sandwiches. Using a different type of bread each day can make sandwiches more interesting.

Try multigrain and seed rolls, bagels, baguettes, pitta breads or wraps - the list is endless.

Don’t waste time making sandwiches, though; children have reported they don’t like the sogginess of sandwiches and prefer meat, cheese or fish to be kept separate from the bread.

You could also raid the fridge for leftovers; some foods such as pizza or pasta, couscous or rice taste just as good cold. Cook extra rice or pasta at meal-times and mix it with cut-up vegetables, a few nuts flaked tuna or mackerel.

Filling the void - meat, fish and alternatives

Try to include lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, beans or pulses in your lunchbox. Remember, if you are using a spread choose a reduced fat one, or do without it completely if you are using a moist filling.

Here are some healthy suggestions:

Tuna with cucumber, green pepper, sweetcorn or tomato

Low-fat houmous and cucumber

Egg and cress (get the kids to grow their own in a tray on the windowsill)

Cottage cheese and dried apricots

Cooked chicken or turkey, tomatoes, and lettuce

Peanut butter and banana

Grated cheese and tomato

Oily fish, such as salmon sandwich or mackerel pasta salad

Fruit and veggies

It’s important to eat five (or more) portions of fruit and vegetables every day.

Children have told researchers they like different fruits every day and don’t always want the traditional choices of apple, banana and grapes.

You could pack up a wedge of melon, a peeled orange, a halved kiwi and spoon or a little pot of strawberries.

Dried fruits, like raisins and apricots, count in your five a day.

Add chopped raw vegetables - carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes or a mixed salad.

Tinned fruit in natural juice is just as healthy - pop some in a small container or buy small tins with a ring pull which can easily be opened by little hands.

Dairy delights

Try to include some dairy products in your lunchbox - it’s important to keep teeth healthy and bones strong. Though do remember to look at the sugar levels of dairy desserts – 5g of sugar equals about one teaspoon).

You could try:

Low-fat yogurt - plain or fruit-flavoured

Low-fat fromage frais

Small pot of rice pudding or custard

Milk or fruit-based milkshakes

Tasty treats

Children often fancy something sweet in their lunch-boxes and there’s nothing wrong with this if you strive to make the healthiest choices you can on their behalf.

Healthy sweet options:

Currant bun, scone or fruit loaf

Plain popcorn

Cereal bar (though opt for ones with lower sugar levels)

Fun-sized bar of chocolate

Put in a drink

Choose from:

Plain water (still or sparkling)

Plain milk (skimmed or semi-skimmed)

Make your own smoothie from plain yoghurt and pureed fruit

Pure fruit juice in small cartons or in a small bottle

Hot drinks in the winter, e.g. soups

Keeping it cool

Use a cool-bag and pop in an ice-pack or freeze a carton of juice and place in with food

Keep in the fridge until morning if you make it the night before

Tell your children not to leave their lunch boxes next to a radiator or in the sun

For more information visit the BDA website at