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Healthy lunch boxes

Swap Well to Eat Well Lunchboxes Artwork

A well balanced healthy lunch box will provide kids with all the energy and brain power they need for a busy day at nursery or school. Here are some ideas to help you create a healthy lunchbox for your family and avoid waste.

Young children naturally have much smaller stomachs than adults. No matter what you’re serving, portion size is very important. Your child’s hand size is a good way to measure the portion size they will need for lunch. E.g palm for protein, fist for fruit, fist for carbs, two handfuls for veg, two finger size piece of cheese, thumb-sized serving of spread.

Click here to download this information as a toolkit you can keep

Swap Well to Eat Well - Information Pack

Bread is a staple part of many packed lunches but you can use alternatives to sliced bread, such as pittas, wraps, rolls or flatbreads. Try choosing brown, wholemeal or multigrain options for more fibre which makes you feel fuller and also helps energy levels last longer.

Encourage younger children to eat their packed lunch by including naturally brightly coloured foods with different shapes and textures to help them enjoy their food.

Include chopped colourful vegetables that can be eaten with fingers, such as cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, carrot sticks, pepper strips, baby sweetcorn, radishes and celery sticks.

Include colourful fruit such as satsuma segments, apples, banana, blueberries, pear, grapes raisins, pineapple, melon, peach, nectarines or whatever fruits are in season (please be aware that some fruits including grapes may present a choking hazard and must be cut in half before serving).

Instead of processed cheese sticks and slices, try cutting chunks of cheddar, Emmental or edam cheese. It’s much cheaper to buy a block of cheese and slice it at home, rather than buy individual portions of cheese.

Stick to a small match-box sized serving of cheese as it is a good source of protein, calcium and vitamins but best eaten in smaller portions as it’s also high in saturated fat and salt.

Ready-made pots of jelly can be expensive to buy and it’s really easy to make jelly at home. All you need is some small reusable pots with lids. Look out for ‘real fruit juice’ jelly or ‘sugar free’ jelly options in the supermarket and follow the instructions for making the jelly and then add frozen berries (e.g. blueberries, raspberries, strawberries) or tinned fruit (e.g. mandarin segments, peach slices, pear halves).

Allow to cool, pop the lids on then keep in the fridge. They will keep for up to 5 days, so are perfect for adding to packed lunches!

Healthy Lunchbox Toolkit

It is important for children to eat nutritious food at lunchtime. We have worked with a nutritionist and suggest the following for children aged 5-11 years.

Please choose 1 portion from each of the four boxes to make a tasty well balanced lunchbox for your child.

Carbohydrates for your Lunchbox


Provides lots of energy and fibre.
Portion size: child’s fist.

Choose 1 portion (wholegrain where possible):

  • 1-2 slices of bread
  • 1 pitta bread
  • 1 chapati or roti
  • 1 wrap
  • Pasta
  • Cous-cous
Protein for your Lunchbox


Needed for growth, development and repair of muscles
Portion size: child’s palm

Choose 1 portion:

  • Chicken or turkey
  • Beef, pork or lamb
  • Tuna
  • Boiled egg
  • Daal
  • Lentils
  • Houmous
  • Pulses
Dairy for your Lunchbox


Contains calcium for healthy teeth and bones
Portion size: child’s thumb

Choose 1 portion:

  • Small glass of milk – semi skimmed or unsweetened dairy alternative
  • Small yogurt or low sugar lassi
  • Small chunk of cheese
Fruits & Vegetables for your Lunchbox

Fruit and vegetables

Vitamins and minerals for good health
Portion size: child’s handful

Choose 1 portion:

  • Apple
  • Banana
  • Orange
  • Melon
  • Peppers
  • Tomato
  • Kiwi
  • Grapes
  • Carrot sticks
  • Sweetcorn
  • Cucumber
  • Strawberries
Does and don'ts for your Lunchbox

Foods high in fat, salt and sugar should not be included in children’s lunchboxes.

Eating too much fat, salt and sugar can lead to tooth decay, heart disease and diabetes.

Water is available at lunchtime, it is free and has lots of health benefits.

Foods Swap Alternative
Fatty processed meats. (e.g. hot dog sausage, pepperoni, corned beef, luncheon meat etc.) SWAP FOR Lean meat chicken, turkey, tinned tuna (drained)
Deep fried samosas SWAP FOR Oven baked samosas
Butter SWAP FOR Low fat spreads
Bread rolls SWAP FOR Wholemeal bread, wraps or pittas
Crisps SWAP FOR Salad or carrot and cucumber sticks
High sugar and fizzy drinks SWAP FOR Water
Cakes and chocolate SWAP FOR Fresh fruit or tinned fruit in jelly or low fat yoghurt

The Swap Shop

Make swapping fun by getting a few swap ingredients together and asking children to design their own snack.

For a savoury swap try:

  • Breadsticks
  • Rice cakes
  • Crackers
  • Pitta breads
  • Low-fat cheese spread
  • Hummus
  • Cubes of cucumber
  • Tomato slices
  • Carrot sticks
  • Cubes of reduced fat cheese

For a sweet swap try:

  • Unsweetened popcorn (sprinkle cinnamon or other spices for flavour!)
  • Slices of fruit
  • Low-fat natural yoghurt
  • Low-sugar peanut, cashew or almond butter (please be aware of allergies)
  • Sugar-free jelly

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