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Building a balanced lunchbox

Building a balanced lunchbox

Posted: 01 Apr 2019

With the unpredictable nature of our day to day lives, preparing and packing a healthy lunchbox can be a difficult task. Finding time to shop and prepare interesting and healthy meals for school lunches can be stressful. But the foods we send to school with our kids can contribute up to 1/3 of their daily intake of nutrients. So it’s important to pack a balanced lunch to ensure they’re getting the nutrients they need.


Below are a few healthy lunch box ideas to inspire you year-round. We always recommend thinking of each lunch box in terms of the five food groups and making sure they’re all represented:


Dairy foods


The foods in this group are excellent sources of calcium, which is important for strong, healthy bones. Not many other foods in our diet contain as much calcium as dairy foods.

  • Fingers of hard cheese and blocks of cream cheese work well with crackers
  • Pack a small tub of flavoured yoghurt with a spoon or a drinking yoghurt 
  • A carton of milk or your child’s favourite flavoured milk are packed with calcium


Fruit and vegetables


Fruit and vegetables provides vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre, that help your child’s body stay healthy.

  • Fresh fruit can be whole or cut up and placed in a container 
  • Fruit kebabs are fun – anything goes! Get your child to help you the night before!
  • Smoothies are so nutritious – you can make your own by combining frozen fruit, vanilla yoghurt and ground almonds or peanut butter. Remember to pack a cooler to keep it cold for first break!
  • Dried fruit comes in many forms – look out for fruit bars, small packets of raisins or dried fruit rolls.
  • Some children love their vegetables! Try sweet baby tomatoes, celery, carrot and cucumber sticks and add in a small serving of hummus or tzatziki for dipping.


High fibre, starchy foods


Always choose whole grain and/or high fibre varieties of breads, cereals, rice, pasta and noodles. The more refined grain products, such as cakes or biscuits, can be high in added sugar, fat and sodium.

  • Low GI bread and seed bread make healthier sandwiches 
  • Pack rye or wholewheat crackers with humus or cream cheese on the side
  • Home-made popcorn or cooked sweetcorn on the cob can add variety
  • Prepare your own bran, carrot or cheese muffins at home, and if possible enrich them with oat bran and cut back the sugar content.


Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs and dried beans and peas


Our body uses the protein we eat to build, maintain and repair the tissues in our body. Protein is important for children’s growth.

  • Some ideas for protein-rich fillings for sandwiches and rolls -  chicken or tuna with mayonnaise and finely chopped celery; hard boiled eggs mashed with mayonnaise and finely chopped spring onion or even peanut butter with sliced banana. 
  • Roll up lean cold meat with a filling of cheese, cream cheese, humus, pesto or tzatziki 
  • Chicken drumsticks with a mayo and chutney dip are a hit in lunchboxes
  • Pack mini viennas or cooked cocktail sausages with tomato or sweet chilli sauce 
  • Prepare mini burgers or a burger cut into quarters. Small portions are so much more enticing.
  • Hard boiled eggs are a fabulous source of quality protein.
  • Although biltong can be fatty, choose lean sticks and add these for a treat. 
  • In winter, a vegetable and lentil soup will be a welcome and warm addition to the lunchbox. Pack it in a separate mini flask.


Healthy Fats 


Children do need small quantities of fats and oils to provide them with the essential fatty acids for health.

  • Pack assorted nuts or a small packet of peanuts and raisins 
  • Peanut butter is a popular spread for sandwiches or even for crackers
  • Mash avocado with lemon juice for a guacomole dip for vegetables 


Remember too that when it comes to beverages, water is always best!  Keep it exciting by pre-freezing water slushies that will defrost by first break, or by adding chopped fruit to your child’s water bottle for colour and flavour.  

This table can help you to build a different and delicious lunchbox every day that will nourish and sustain your child.  Choose at least one food from each of the food groups below and don’t forget to add a personal touch, like a note or stickers, or hide a special treat at the bottom. Pack fun napkins, draw a face on a banana with a marker pen or cut sandwiches into novelty shapes using a cookie cutter!


High fibre starchy foods Lean proteins Dairy Healthy fats Vegetables Fruit

Mini whole-wheat wrap

Whole-wheat roll

Whole-wheat pita

Whole-wheat pasta

Brown rice

Baby potato salad or skewers

Potato wedges

Sweet potato wedges

Homemade popcorn

High fibre, whole-wheat crackers

High fibre breakfast biscuits

Mini corn spears

Baked pretzels (unsalted)

Mini oat/bran/apple muffins

Mini rice cakes

Rice cakes dipped in yoghurt

Mini corn cakes

Whole-wheat crumpet / mini waffle

Roast chicken breast cut into strips

Chicken drumsticks

Boiled egg

Smoked chicken breast

Lean shaved turkey, chicken, ham (whole muscle)


Ostrich biltong

Toasted, flavoured chickpeas

Mozzarella cheese

Cheese wedges

Cheese spread

Cottage cheese

Milk carton

Drinking yoghurt

Flavoured milk

Small yoghurt tubs

High fibre breakfast drink

Maas carton


Peanut butter


Peanuts and raisins (unsalted)

Raw nuts

Trail mix

Nuts coated in yoghurt

Dressings and dips

Bean dip

Reduced oil salad cream

Crudité veggies

Carrot sticks / baby carrots

Cherry tomatoes

Mange tout peas

Cucumber sticks

Celery sticks

Bell pepper strips

Green beans

Coleslaw mini salad

Vegetable kebabs

Snap peas

Lettuce (for wraps and sandwich fillings)

Vegetable chips, baked

Salsa dip

Zucchini and butternut noodles for salads

Dried fruit (no added sugar)

Fruit kebabs

Apple pieces

Banana chips

Any whole fruit chopped into bite-sized serving

Fruit rolls, no added sugar

Fruit sticks, no added sugar

Fruit bars, no added sugar

Trail mix

Homemade baked apple chips

Did you know that Pick n Pay employs the services of a registered dietitian to provide free nutrition and food advice to the public?  Whatever nutrition query you have always wanted answered, give our dietitian a call on 0800 11 22 88 or email [email protected]


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