Stumped about what to pack for lunch? Here are dietitian-approved healthy lunch box ideas for the whole family…

Like millions of people, I’m trying to make 2020 a healthier and happier year, but the lunch rush has me stumped. It’s quick and easy to make a peanut butter sandwich, and I know my toddler will actually eat it, but is it’s not exactly a nutritionally balanced meal.

The struggle is real.

A 10-year study by the University of Leeds in the UK found that fewer than two in every 100 packed primary school kids’ lunches meet nutritional standards.

The researchers say that the lack of fresh food is to blame and found that just one in five children have any vegetables or salad in their packed lunch.

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Whether you have little kids, teenagers or you’re single, we could all use some healthy lunch inspiration, so I asked dietitians for their top healthy lunch box tips and ideas…

One thing you can do to improve lunches

If you do just one thing to improve the nutritional value of your family’s lunches, add vegetables.

“Vegetables provide a wide range of nutrients essential for children’s growth and development including fibre, vitamin C and zinc,” says lead researcher and diet expert Dr Charlotte Evans, an Associate Professor in the School of Food Science and Nutrition at Leeds.

She suggests chopped carrots, cucumbers and peppers to supplement packed lunches. “Vegetables and salad will remain fresh in an air-tight container for several days.”

But my child only eats sandwiches

Adding fresh fruit and vegetables to a lunch box sounds easy enough, but what happens when your lovingly prepared salads are left untouched day after day?

What can you do if you have a child who only wants to eat sandwiches? And how do you get yourself to eat more vegetables when you’re not a big fan either?

The first thing to remember is that we all ‘eat with our eyes first’, so it pays to make healthy lunches look enticing.

“Try to pack a variety of foods, with different colours, each day to make it feel fresh and like you want to eat it, suggested Estée van Lingen, registered dietitian and member of the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA).

As for the child who only eats sandwiches, you may need to be sneaky.

Nathalie Mat, ADSA member and registered dietitian, suggests adding shredded cabbage, grated carrots and radishes to add bulk and flavour to a sandwich. 

Fussy eaters may be more likely to start eating veg when it’s disguised in foods they like.

“For toddlers and younger children that only need a snack at school, you can make batches of healthier fruit-based waffles or pancakes (they freeze well) as finger food,” says Mat.

Mat cautions that children under four should have their food chopped into manageable pieces to reduce the risk of choking.

Click on page 2 for tips to help you save time when making lunch…