Stuck for lunchbox inspiration? Here are some healthy ideas

January 24, 2019

I’m the laziest lunch-mom – I either give money for the tuckshop, or slap a piece of cold meat and mayonnaise onto slices of bread, and that’s the daily sandwich.

This year, I’ve compiled a list of better and more varied lunch and snack options, and I’m determined to make my son’s lunchboxes more fab than drab this year.

I asked Abby Courtenay, a Joburg-based dietitian in private practice, who I’ve been and absolutely recommend, for some lunchbox suggestions, and tips for getting them healthy.

“A good school lunch provides your child with enough energy to concentrate and perform at their school tasks and excel at their after school sports,” says Abby.

“If your child arrives home ‘hangry’ (angry due to hunger) then you might want to consider optimising their school lunchbox. Not only will this help them at school, but will also set them up for a healthy habit for the rest of their lives.”

Step 1: Get a good quality lunch container and/ or a cooler bag

  • Ensure it is a strong container that will protect the food from being squashed!
  • Have smaller containers available for dips, sauces or cut-up fruit.
  • You can use a reusable ice pack for food that needs to be kept cool.
  • Remember to wash out the lunch box daily!

Step 2: Make sure the lunchbox has all the right food components. Variety is key, so try your best to swap things around as often as possible.

  • Lean proteins:
    • Leftover chicken, slices of roast beef, biltong, tuna/ salmon ‘packs’, low fat cottage cheese, grated mozzarella cheese, boiled eggs/ crustless quiche/ frittata, plain yoghurt or legumes (like beans, lentils and chickpeas).
  • Healthy starch: Minimally processed and high fibre options
    • Corn (canned/ frozen), brown/ wild rice, chickpeas (tinned), heat and eat high fibre grains (like barley), high fibre crackers (like Provita/ corncakes) or seed/ rye bread
    • Occasionally wholegrain wraps or pasta make for a nice change of pace
  • Plant fat:
    • Avo, olive oil dressing, olives, olive tapenade, pesto or mayonnaise
  • Vegetables:
    • Plenty of vegetables, salads and/ or vegetable soups. Raw veggie sticks are often accepted by children and give the lunchbox a lovely range of bright colours! Use cookie cutters to cut up your veggies to make them more interesting and appealing to children and offer a dip (like plain yoghurt and tahini/ tzatziki/ cottage cheese/ peanut satay etc.) with the veggies top entice even the most fussy of eaters! 


Tuna mayo, chickpea and wholewheat pasta salad
Sandwich with seed loaf, cold meats and salad
Finger foods like a boiled mealie, sugar snap peas, rosa tomatoes and cucumber slices with cottage cheese (mix some basil pesto in) Whole-wheat wraps with veggies
Tuna mayo and chickpea salad
Pesto, brown rice and roast vegetable salad

In addition to this add:

  • Fruit:

    • Have a fruit with meals or in between meals as a quick and easy snack. Again, fruit pairs well with a dip like a peanut butter and yoghurt dip for apples, pears or bananas.
    • Choose fresh fruit instead of fruit juice. Fruit juice is void of fibre and will not keep your child feeling fuller for longer.
  • Extras:
    • Nuts, trail mix, biltong, dried fruit bars, popcorn etc

Step 3: Get your child involved in packing the lunchbox

Remember that children like to be involved in what they eat, and it is important to respect their food preferences. A great way to get kids to buy into what you are making, is to let them help choose what‘s on the menu. Some children feel safe with the same predictable sandwich while others are adventurous with their food choices and
will love variety.

Always make sure that your child has enough food for the day. Think about if it he needs a meal or snack as well as if there are any extra mural activities after school!

In addition to this, use this opportunity to talk to your child about nutrition and help them make healthy associations (i.e. yoghurt and milk help make your bones strong or salmon/ sardines feed your brain).

Step 4: Limit unhealthy snacks and treats

A treat and a snack are not the same things! If your child’s lunchbox is filled with chips, chocolates and sweets they will automatically eat them out of habit or purely because they are available. Don’t let treats become a habit and something your child expects everyday. While treats are not ‘bad’ they are also not everyday foods.

Step 5: Be aware of your drinks

Avoid packing colddrinks, juices and flavoured sweetened waters and rather opt for plain or sparkling water. Some children love ice cold water and so an old trick that works really well is to freeze a bottle of water and allow to act as an ice pack for your child’s lunchbox as well as a refreshing bottle of cold water for throughout the day.

If you’d like to contact Joburg-based Abby for a consultation or some advice, you can email her here, or contact her on 082 553 7738.


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  • Megan Keith

    Such good tips! Thanks for sharing. Megan xx

    January 25, 2019 at 9:32 am Reply
  • MrsFF

    I always enjoy reading about school lunches. And I find the whole idea very stressful. I just wish school would provide everything and charge me for it 🙂

    Our school lunch is technically a mid morning snack so we don’t do all our. Plus our school is a complete nut free zone and no yoghurts. Which I bought would make packing stressful but thankfully has made it so much easier.

    January 30, 2019 at 12:28 pm Reply
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