Get Ready For School With This Simple, Healthy Lunchbox Guide

No tiny cookie and sandwich cutters required.

Parents, it's that time of year again. The school holidays are coming to an end, you're ticking off the school's stationery and uniform list, and the lunchboxes are waiting, ready to be filled with food your kids will (hopefully) eat by the end of the day.

Preparing a lunchbox that is both nutritious and appealing to your kids can be challenging. In an ideal world, your little ones would eat all those carrot sticks, apples and wholegrain salad sandwiches. But we often turn to convenient packets of chips and snacks to save time and tantrums.

Preparing a nutritionally balanced lunchbox that your kids will love -- while also being time and cost effective for you -- is possible.

Here are five tips on how to make simple, healthy and (importantly) delicious kids' lunchboxes.

1. Plan and shop

Planning in advance and shopping for supplies is one of those tasks that sounds easier than it is. According to Elle Harrison, former My Kitchen Rules contestant and Lenard's culinary coach, the key is getting into a routine so that planning becomes second nature.

"To save time and unnecessary stress in the morning, I recommend planning out the kids' lunches weekly, and nominating a day each week to do the grocery shopping," Harrison told HuffPost Australia.

"It also helps to keep a shopping list next to the fridge and as soon as you notice something is running low, jot it down. This will not only ensure ingredients remain fresh and within easy reach each day, but you will also likely notice your grocery bills are more consistent rather than doing infrequent shops several times a week. "

Healthy lunchbox tips

Use foods from the five core food groups:

  • Vegetables and legumes/beans
  • Fruit
  • Grain (cereal) foods, mostly whole grain and/or high fibre
  • Lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
  • Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat

This will ensure that your child is receiving adequate nutrition from various food groups during the day.

Sandwiches, wraps and rolls are common main lunch items for kids. Choose wholemeal or multigrain varieties and include lots of vegetables. Use a variety of fillings to keep children interested.

Encourage children to drink water throughout the day.

Limit foods with added sugar, added salt and those high in saturated fat.

Source: Nutrition Australia.

2. Have a monthly bake day (the kids can help)

One of the main traps parents can fall into, especially when short on time, is turning to packaged processed foods.

"Convenience items are so easy to fill your kids' lunch boxes with," Harrison said. "Packet foods such as chips and muesli bars fill their lunch boxes with sugar and over processed foods, which results in an unbalanced lunch box."

While making snacks from scratch every night or morning is unrealistic, having a monthly bake day with the kids' help is a great way to bulk make snacks your kids will love.

"The best way to be cost effective is to make snacks from scratch. To be time effective as well, I find it helpful to allocate one day per month as a bake day," Harrison said.

"You can prepare mini muffins, muesli bars, super food balls and freeze them. This way you can get the kids involved and know every single ingredient in each item."

Try banana carrot muffins with oats and berries.
Try banana carrot muffins with oats and berries.

3. Incorporate main food groups

As with all main meals, the goal when packing a lunchbox is to keep things nutritionally balanced. That means: having a good balance of lean protein (chicken, eggs, legumes, tofu, etc.), complex carbohydrates (whole grain bread, crackers, brown rice, sweet potato, etc.), and fat (nuts, seeds, avocado) -- as well as veggies.

"To incorporate protein, you could make a quick, healthy fried brown rice with chicken and eggs, a roast chicken sandwich, or chicken wings," Harrison said.

"These protein options should also be accompanied with at least one serve of veggies, but you could also increase your child's daily vegetable intake with a snack of crunchy carrot sticks or celery."

Carbohydrates are just as important for energy, but be mindful of processed white bread and instead opt for low GI whole grain options such as rye, spelt and wholemeal bread.

"For something a bit more interesting to tick the carbohydrate box, include a brown rice dish, tri-colour wholemeal pasta or even some homemade muesli bars full of oats and nuts," Harrison said.

A healthy lunch helps children stay alert and active throughout the day.
A healthy lunch helps children stay alert and active throughout the day.

4. Get creative

Getting creative doesn't mean you have to meticulously make food animals and hearts using cookie and sandwich cutters. Try involving the kids and using colours and flavours they enjoy when prepping lunchboxes.

"You want to make sure the lunches you prepare are actually being eaten, so get creative and surprise your child with something different and delicious," Harrison said.

"Some kids can be fussy and will only eat food they like, so if you notice they enjoy a particular flavour combination, use this as your inspiration for other dishes."

For example, if your child loves cheese, incorporate those ingredients into a sandwich with salad, vegetable lasagna or a mini quiche with some hidden veggies.

Quick tip: serving the food in a cute, quirky lunchbox can pique your child's interest.
Quick tip: serving the food in a cute, quirky lunchbox can pique your child's interest.

5. Keep it cool and fresh

Hot hummus and veggie sticks, warm drinks or cut up fruit aren't incredibly appealing. To keep the lunchbox cool (and to add a delicious element), add a frozen drink.

"In this climate, the last thing you want is a warm fruit salad, or worse, a bout of food poisoning from protein or dairy left in the sun," Harrison said.

"A sure-fire way to keep lunches cool and safe is to use an insulated lunch bag with a freezer brick, or alternatively, a frozen juice popper, flavoured milk or water bottle. To ensure the condensation doesn't make everything else go soggy, place the frozen drink into a plastic sandwich bag and seal tight. This is also a great treat and should be defrosted by the time the lunch bell rings."

Are your children sick of sandwiches? Try these sandwich-free lunch ideas: