Healthy school lunches: Thinking outside the box

Posted: 11-05-2015

by Jess Ferguson RD(SA)

Healthy school lunches: Thinking outside the box

Packing lunches for school (or work) can often be quite a chore and very frustrating, and parents often complain that they do not have any ideas to make the school lunches healthy and fun.  A good, healthy lunch is important for a child’s mental and physical health, so we are going to look at which type of foods should be included in a lunch box and some fun, interesting AND healthy tips for packing school lunches!

  • Include a starchy food

Starchy foods for a lunch box

These are a good source of energy, and of the starchy foods provide good amounts of dietary fibre. 

Here are some examples of starchy foods, and some ideas of how you can include them in your child’s lunch box:


Ideas and comments

Oat flapjacks

  • This is a healthy alternative to normal flapjacks and can be used instead of bread
  • See recipe under “chefy”

Rice cakes

  • Chose the whole grain options
  • A nice alternative to sandwiches
  • Try them topped with avocado, hummus, or any normal sandwich topping


Oat cakes


  • Try go for seed bread or whole wheat bread
  • Why not try toasting the bread at home, cutting into strips, and providing an avocado dip?
  • Or make French toast strips
  • There’s nothing wrong with a conventional sandwich either!



  • Try out the whole wheat versions
  • A nice alternative to a sandwich
  • Add some vegetables and a protein to make a complete meal!
  • See “chefy” for a recipe idea


Whole wheat wraps

  • Cut up some carrots, cucumber, lettuce, chicken, and make a wrap for your child

Wholewheat muffins

  • A nice occasional treat (and a good backup to keep in the freezer!)

Pita slices

  • Choose whole wheat pitas
  • Fill it with salad ingredients and a protein food
  • Or toast the pitas, cut into wedges, and serve with a dip


  • Include a protein foodExamples of protein foods for a lunch box

These keep you fuller for longer.  They also provide the building blocks for growth and for repairing cells in your body.  Dairy is a good protein food and plays an essential role in building teeth and bones and maintaining bone mass.



Try out one of these protein foods:


Ideas and comments


  • Use on bread, provitas, rice cakes, oatcakes, or as a dip

Cottage cheese or low fat cream cheese


  • On bread, provitas, rice cakes, oat cakes
  • Don’t have it too often, it is quite high in fat

Ham, chicken, and other meats

  • A nice protein source in wraps, pitas or salads
  • Remember to pack in with an ice pack!


  • Very versatile, can be used with many foods
  • You even get stayfresh packs that you child can open at school which means that they don’t need refrigeration


  • Give a whole boiled egg, or cut up/mashed in a salad or on a starchy food


  • Give a handful as a snack
  • Source of good fats


  • Choose the lean options as an occasional treat


  • A good source of protein and calcium

Beans, lentils, and chickpeas

  • A good source of fibre
  • Can be added into wraps, pitas and salads
  •  Include fruit and vegetables

Fruit and vegetables are a good source of fibre and provide many essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which are important for good health. Here are some ideas of how to include them in your child’s lunchbox:


Ideas and comments

Any fresh fruit or dried fruit

  • Cut up in a fruit salad
  • Add grated apple to pasta salads
  • Cut up fruit in yogurt
  • Why not try out a smoothie for a snack at school?

Any fresh or cooked vegetables

  • Make a salad with their lunch
  • Add some vegetables to a pasta or cous cous salad
  • Put salad ingredients into their wraps, pitas, cous cous
  • Cut up some veg (e.g. carrots, snap peas, mini corns) and give it with a dip, such as avocado, hummus, or low fat cream cheese
  • Some other tips:
    • Remember to place the food in an insulated cooler bag with an ice pack if the food needs to be kept chilled
    • Try warming up some soup (or any leftovers) at home and keeping it in a food thermos
    • Include a bottle of water in your child’s lunch bag
    • Occasional treats are ok to give your child, but just watch the portion size!

Here are some examples of fun, interesting and healthy school lunches, using the guidelines that we have gone through:

 Toasted Pita for lunch

Toasted pita breads (with ham) and vegetables crudité to dip in hummus and mashed avocado

Cut up mango and naartjie



Soup for lunch

Minestrone soup in a thermos, with toasted seed bread cut into strips, and fruit salad


 Vegetables for lunch

Vegetable crudité with hummus, sandwich kebabs, cut up mango and naartjie, and a bran muffin





Bran muffin for lunch

Bran muffins, cucumber slices, fruit kebabs, and mixed nuts




Oat Cakes with cheese


Oat cakes with cheese, ham, and cucumbers

Cherry tomatoes

Cut up mango and naartjie



Whole wheat seed rolls

Whole wheat seed rolls with smoked chicken and avo

Vegetables crudité with hummus

Cut up apple



Oat flap jacks with cheese

Oat flapjacks with cheese and ham, and peanut butter and banana

Cherry tomatoes and naartjie




Whole wheat Couscous chicken salad

Whole wheat cous cous with smoked chicken, cut up vegetables, and mayonnaise

Grapes, mini corn, and mixed nuts







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