children eating foods from their healthy lunchboxes

Healthy Lunchbox Ideas for Kids

August 29, 2017

On the hunt for some healthy lunchbox ideas for kids? It can be hard to keep things fun on the lunchbox front on a daily basis as well as nutritious. But a nutritious lunch is so important for growing bodies and brains.

According to recent research in Ireland, the most popular items in a lunchbox are a sliced white bread sandwich with a filling of ham, cheese or chicken; crisps, a chocolate bar or biscuit; and a yoghurt or cheese snack. While, there’s nothing wrong with any of these foods on an occasional basis, if a child eats them every day, they won't get the range of nutrients they need for good health and energy.

The key to a healthy packed lunch is nutritional balance and a wide variety of foods (it will curb their fondness for sugary/savoury cravings early on). If you're after some inspiration, we've got plenty of healthy lunchbox ideas for kids below.

Healthy Lunchbox Ideas for Kids

A homemade packed lunch is a great way for your child to learn about healthy food. If you're after some healthy lunchbox ideas for kids, look no further. Here's some great inspiration for your little ones to fill them up and boost their brain power. 

Protein Packs a Nutritional Punch

Protein is super nutritious and a great way to fill little ones up. Good examples of protein include:

  • lean cooked free-range or local chicken
  • turkey or beef
  • cooked fish and prawns
  • boiled eggs
  • seeds
  • seed butters
  • pulses and hummus
  • vegetarian sausages
  • cubed seasoned cooked tofu

Some great fish options include cooked or canned boned salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines and tuna, which all make great sandwich fillings especially blended with a little crème fraiche.

Variety: Keep things interesting

Variety is the spice of life! Mix things up a little with the kids’ food and try something new. Sandwiches don’t always have to be centre stage in the lunch box. Savoury muffins, wholemeal wraps, pittas, oatcakes, rice cakes and cracker breads are all great options.

Snack Time

If you're after some healthy lunchbox ideas for kids, snacks are a great addition. They're an important part of a healthy diet for active children. Make snacks nutritious, not just high in energy. Many of us struggle to get our kids to eat enough fruit and vegetables, yet the lunchbox provides the perfect opportunity to boost your child's intake. Fill up lunchboxes with:

  • a small apple
  • satsuma
  • pear
  • grapes
  • berries
  • celery sticks
  • peeled carrot sticks

Pair any of these with Irish soft cheese, which makes a delicious, filling snack that kids love. Also consider small bags of dried fruit; mixed fresh fruit salad; puréed fruit; chopped, sliced or a fruit and veg smoothie. 

Foods to use only in moderation 

There are certain foods that should be enjoyed in moderation, either at home or in school lunch boxes:

  • Processed or packet meats such as salami, ham and luncheon roll
  • Processed cheese
  • Crisps and salty nuts
  • Sugary biscuits, muesli bars or breakfast bars
  • Fizzy drinks, cordials, sweetened juices or soft drinks - encourage your children to drink plain water instead!
  • Sugary yoghurts

Get Creative

When it comes to appetising and healthy lunchbox ideas for kids, presentation can play a part. There's lots of ways to inject some fun in to your little ones lunchboxes. For instance, turn a regular sambo in to sushi by rolling the bread and cutting it up. Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes whether it's dinosaur sandwiches, flowers made from cucumber or slices of cheese turned in to stars. Or add some fruit or sandwich fillings to skewers for a fun lunch time twist.

Get moving! Nourishing your children can also be done through exercise! 

Physical activity is an important part of good health. Encourage children to do something active each day, such as hobbies, games or sport. Get out and move with them… which is fun and exercise for all the family!

Tips to Encourage Good Eating Habits in Kids

1. Let Them Get Their Hands Dirty  

Allowing and encouraging kids to participate in meal planning and food preparation can empower them with a wonderful interest in food and provide them with great skills later in life! Include your kids in food preparation, stirring, peeling etc. allowing children to assist positively with food prep the evening before or earlier in the morning.

2. Take Them Grocery Shopping

Shopping at your local greengrocer and independent health food store gets your children excited about fresh produce - and getting them to choose their own fruit will make them eager to help pack and eat their lunches.

3. Fruit and Vegetables

Children should eat a minimum of 5-10 servings of fruit and vegetables every single day for maximum health benefits. The nutrients in these foods will energise them, build strong bones and muscles, and help their brains stay sharper.

Even better, finding ways to encourage your kids to enjoy eating fruits and vegetables can be fun! You can get creative and use the likes of cookie cutters to present fruit in fun ways or make shapes using fruit and veg.

Above all, the best thing you can do to instill healthy eating habits in your children is by being a positive food role model. If your kids see you eating fruits and vegetables, buying organic and choosing healthy options over junk food, they’ll be more likely to follow suit.

Checked and updated: 25 August 2021