Lunch boxes – they are the bane of our existence. As parents, we spend so much time packing a lunch box. But the good news is, you don’t have to pack fancy Instagram-worthy lunchboxes for them to be nourishing. You can keep it simple. There are plenty of healthy kids lunch options that are quick, easy and full of nutrients.
Watch the video or continue reading below to find out more about quick and easy healthy kids lunch options.
How To Build An Easy & Healthy Kids Lunch
The easiest way to build a healthy kids lunch is to focus on nutrient-dense fresh wholefoods. Because kids are growing and developing at a rapid rate, they require a lot of nutrition. So we want to make sure each bite is as nutrient-rich as possible. That’s why their lunchboxes should be packed with foods that are fresh, natural and as close to nature as you can get.
A wholefood-based lunchbox is also naturally colourful, thanks to the fruits and veggies. The brighter and deeper the colours of the lunchbox, the more nutrient-dense, particularly in terms of antioxidants. But colourful options are also more kid-friendly, as most kids enjoy eating brightly coloured foods!
If you have kids of mixed ages, I encourage you to pack everyone a lunch box, even those who are still at home. You can even pack yourself a lunch box! That way, you’re not having to spend twice as much time in the kitchen preparing food for everyone.
As I mentioned last week in my kids’ breakfast video, many parents wait until dinner to give their kids veggies. But then when kids don’t eat them because they’re tired and grumpy, it stresses their parents out! That’s why I recommend focusing on including vegetables throughout the day, so you’re ahead of the game.
Vegetables are one of the most important food groups for a growing child. They are high in nutrients including fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and low GI carbohydrates. That’s why you want to include vegetables or salad in every lunchbox. They can be cooked or raw, depending on what your child prefers. Some love raw veggie sticks, and others prefer roast vegetables. Leftover vegetables from last night’s dinner can be another easy option.
You can also include the vegetables within the meal itself. Add some into a quiche or frittata, mix them through rice or pasta, or add to a wrap or sandwich. You can even add some to some homemade pizza! Incorporating vegetables in a meal is the best option for more fussy kids.
Another way to sneak them in is to include them in baking. Treats are a great way to add veggies without your kids noticing. You can add vegetables like zucchini, sweet potato, pumpkin and carrot into biscuits, muffins and cakes. One of our favourite recipes is chocolate beetroot muffins.
Another great way to include nutrient-dense foods into a lunchbox is with fruit. Each lunchbox can have 1-2 pieces or small serves of fruit. You want to encourage plenty of colour and a variety of fruits wherever possible. Why not take the kids along to the shop or market to choose 2-3 fruits for their lunchboxes that week?
Whenever possible, pick seasonal fruits. If you’re not sure what is in season, head to your local farmers’ market. And always make sure you go for Australian-grown fruit. Fruit that travels from overseas will lose a lot of its nutrients, and it may be treated with chemicals that are not allowed here in Australia.
Of all the parents I speak to, protein is the nutrient most lacking in their healthy kids’ lunch options. Protein is essential for growth, development and healing. It is the building block of the body, and is used in immune cells and digestive enzymes. So every balanced lunchbox needs a serve of protein in it. The good news is that adding protein doesn’t have to be tricky.
One of the easiest options is using leftovers from the night before. For example, I’ll often cook up extra preservative-free sausages and slice them up for a lunchbox, or put them on a skewer with some cherry tomatoes. One thing I have learned is that most kids will eat food off a skewer that they never would have otherwise!
Other good leftover options include chicken drumsticks or steak. If you often have a roast on Sundays, make a bigger roast, slice up the leftovers and use them for 2-3 days of lunches. Just remember to add an icebrick and pop it into an insulated bag, depending on where you live.
Other protein sources
Tinned fish can be an easy option. Tuna is not the best option, as it is lower in omega-3s and not sustainable. But tinned salmon can be a good alternative. You can make it into a dip or add it to a wrap or sandwich. This way, you’re including protein, but also other vital nutrients such as omega-3s, iodine and selenium.
Eggs are an easy addition, as long as they are allowed in your child’s classroom. You can make boiled eggs, curried eggs, or add them into a frittata or quiche. Mini egg muffins are another great option, and you can make them in advance.
There are also high-protein legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and kidney beans. You can make up a lentil and rice dish, or you can make up some homemade hommus with veggie sticks. The hommus I make for my kids has chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice and tahini.
It’s common for parents to add processed and refined carbohydrates to lunchboxes, because this is what kids are often drawn to. But these foods are high in sugar and low in nutrients. That’s why I suggest switching over to wholegrain options wherever possible.
Try adding brown rice crackers, rye crackers, or even buckwheat and quinoa options. For bread, go for a sourdough spelt or rye bread. You can also use brown rice, spelt flour, oats, quinoa, millet and buckwheat in their lunch.
Stick to small portions of wholegrains. Kids should be getting the majority of their carbohydrates from fruit and veggies, so they don’t need a lot of grain-based foods.
Getting a serve of healthy fats is an important part of a healthy kids lunch. Fat is needed for brain and nervous system development and function. It’s easy to get confused about which fats are healthy and which are not. My #1 rule is to make sure the fat is coming from a natural source.
Natural fat sources include dairy products like cheese and butter, avocado, olive oil, meat, chicken skin, eggs, nuts and seeds. Add some avocado to wraps and sandwiches, use olive oil in homemade dips, or include some cheese as a side.
Many schools are nut-free, but don’t forget seeds as an alternative! Pumpkin seeds are a great option for a snack, because they are high in zinc, which is essential for immune function. Try sprinkling tamari sauce over pumpkin seeds and bake on low for 10 minutes – kids will love them!
Although treats aren’t essential, kids love a lunchbox treat. For a healthy kids lunch, a treat should be a small portion and ideally handmade. But this doesn’t mean you have to bake every day, or even every week. Instead, you can spend a few hours batch-baking a few types of treats to make several weeks worth. I freeze treats in Pyrex containers with baking paper between each layer. Then the kids will go to the freezer and choose their own treat for their lunchbox.
Homemade treats can include cookies, muffins, cakes, bliss balls, slices and muesli bars. Whenever you can, add in veggies like zucchini, sweet potato, pumpkin and carrot. You can also make homemade popcorn with some salt or some cinnamon and rapadura sugar. For times when I don’t have time to bake, I’ll buy a loaf of sourdough raisin bread. Then I’ll add a couple of slices with butter to their lunchboxes as their treat.
Now you have plenty of inspiration for healthy kids lunch options. But you may want some healthy snack ideas too! Make sure you download my FREE ebook – 15 Quick & Easy Healthy Snack Ideas For Kids.