For good health, we should aim to eat a variety of foods from the 5 food groups each day.
Taking a packed lunch to school or work that contains something from each of these food groups is an easy way to do this. Include:
- Breads & Cereals, preferably wholegrain : Rich in carbohydrates – the body’s preferred source of energy these food help kids to play and learn all day. Good choices include pasta, rice, noodles, different breads and crispbreads. Look for wholemeal or wholegrain varieties.
- Vegetables & Salad: high in fibre and packed full of vital vitamins and minerals. Easy lunch box options include cherry tomatoes, carrot and celery sticks and corn cobs. Boost snacks, sandwiches and meals with extra veg and salad. Try these Japanese Vegetable pancakes.
- Fruit: full of vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre that are so important for growing bodies. The options are endless; fresh, whole fruit, cut up fruit, dried or canned fruit add variety.
- Meat & Alternatives: packed full of protein and other nutrients essential for growth such as zinc and iron. Healthy choices include salmon or tuna, lean beef or lamb, skinless chicken or turkey, boiled egg, beans, lentils or hummus.
- Dairy: Dairy foods are vital for growing healthy bones and teeth. Try plain milk poppers, cheese or yoghurt tubs.
And don’t forget water: water is the best way to keep kids hydrated.
A healthy lunch box doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be as simple as a sandwich on wholemeal bread, some celery sticks, cheese and crackers, an apple and a carton of plain milk.
If your school permits it, a wide mouthed thermos is perfect for older students to take hot food to school. Try our macaroni soup (link) that contains vegetables and pasta. Include some hummus, cheese, wholegrain crackers and some fruit and you’ll have all 5 food groups sorted.
The packed lunch box section on the Healthy Lunch Box website is a great place to start for ideas and inspiration.
Some children only like a small amount of food in their lunch box, others like more food. Try to pack an amount of food that will suit your child, especially if lunches are coming home uneaten. You can use the fun and interactive Healthy Lunch Box builder with your child to help work out how much and what types of food they would like at school.
After going to the effort to pack a lunch box it’s important to keep it safe. Use a cooler bag and ice brick or frozen water bottle to keep foods such as meat, fish, poultry and eggs; cooked pasta, noodles and rice; and dairy foods cold in the lunch box. You can also freeze items such as sandwich bread, milk poppers, yoghurt tubs and home-made muffins. They will be thawed and ready to eat at lunch time and keep other lunch box items cold. For more information about the 5 food groups see Eat for Health.