Tips for affordable, healthy and delicious school lunches

As the school holidays draw to a close, it’s time for parents to start thinking about those dreaded lunch boxes! It’s easier than you think to get your children involved in packing delicious school lunches that are healthy, actually get eaten and don’t break the bank.

“Letting children help choose and make their own lunch builds interest in healthier food choices and sets them up with heart-healthy eating habits for life,” Heart Foundation dietician, Sian Armstrong, says. “Including kids in menu planning and assembling lunches can inspire them to get creative in the kitchen – plus they will be more likely to want to eat foods they have helped prepare.”

Planning is key for making healthy lunches for your kids. “Go for snacks based on vegetables and wholegrains, such as veggie sticks with hummus or tzatziki or homemade popcorn. Slices of fruit and unflavoured yoghurt are other filling options for growing children,” Sian Armstrong said. “Small changes can make a big difference, and there are plenty of simple swaps you can make to put together a school lunch that is healthy and appetising.”

Terrifyingly, there will be around 200 school lunches during the year. While this is daunting, it also means there are lots of opportunity to bump up the number of fruit and vegetables servings your children are eating. “Aim for colour and variety by including fruit and cut up crunchy vegetables in the lunchbox, adding salad to a wholegrain sandwich with chicken or eggs, or try making a batch of veggie-packed savoury muffins that you can freeze ahead of the school week,” Sian Armstrong advises. “Where possible, choose in-season fruit and veg because they’re fresher and cheaper. Providing a balanced lunchbox by choosing a variety of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, with healthy proteins and unflavoured milk, cheese or yoghurt, ensures they get all the energy and nutrients they need.”

“Put lunchbox food, like pre-made sandwiches and fruit, in the fridge the night before so it is cool before being packed and use ice bricks around the food,” Sian Armstrong says. “Making water the drink of choice is another way to keep school lunches on the right side of healthy and keep lunchbox contents cool. Try including a frozen water bottle to use as an ice brick and provide a refreshing, icy cold drink on hot summer days.”

Five simple swaps for a healthier lunchbox from The Heart Foundation:

– Try egg and lettuce on wholegrain bread instead of jams or Vegemite on white bread

– Try homemade popcorn or a small salad instead of chips

– Try unflavoured yoghurt with fresh fruit or cheese and wholegrain crackers instead of fruit-flavoured yoghurt

– Try dip and vegetables (such as cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks or cucumber) instead of muesli bars

– Try water instead of soft drinks or fruit juice

Visit the Heart Foundation website for a range of recipes and inspiration for healthy, delicious school lunches.