How to Build a Healthy Lunchbox

Hi everyone, my name is Zoe and my job at HealthWISE is to deliver dietitian services. A huge part of a dietitian’s role is to help people eat healthy, so today I’ll be teaching you how to build a healthy lunchbox with a few simple steps.

This was inspired by Healthy Lunchbox Week, which is an initiative developed by Nutrition Australia, that runs from the 6th to the 12th of February. They have developed a bunch of videos, recipes, resources and activities to help families and schools create healthy and enjoyable lunch boxes; so you can head over to their website after this and check them out.

Why is a healthy lunch box so important?

Well, food gives our bodies the tools that it needs to work and keep us alive. The eyes need vitamins to see, so this includes vitamin A, which is found in meats and orange vegetables like carrots. So this might be why your parents or teachers tell you that carrots help you see in the dark! The brain needs energy from carbohydrates to make decisions, store your memories and learn new things. Your heart and lungs need energy and minerals to pump blood and oxygen around the body. Your stomach and intestines need energy and minerals to break down and absorb the food that we eat and the liver and kidneys need energy to remove toxins from the body.

Without food our body doesn’t work at all, and without a variety of food the body doesn’t work as best as it can.

The five food groups

So there are five main food groups that we need to eat from everyday to make sure our bodies get everything they need – all the nutrients and all the energy necessary to work properly.

The first food group in the dark green (in the picture above) is vegetables. This includes things like potatoes, lettuce, capsicum, chickpeas.

The second group is in the light green, and this is fruits – for example, bananas, watermelon, grapes or oranges.

The third, in the purple section is dairy or alternatives to dairy if you can’t have dairy. This includes yoghurt, cheese and milk (alternatives can be made using soy or almonds).

The fourth group, in the dark blue, is meat and alternatives. This includes chicken or fish, or if you can’t have meat – tofu or chickpeas… or even eggs.

The final food group, in the orange section, is grains. This includes things like breads, rice, oats, pasta and any cereals that you might have for breakfast like Corn Flakes or Weet-Bix; they’re all grains.

Six steps to build a better lunch box

  1. Add two vegetables. Examples include carrot sticks and hummus, cherry tomatoes. You might make some coleslaw that you can put in a wrap or sandwich or just have by itself. It could be vegetable soup that you can heat up, a tin of corn or roasted chickpeas with some spices and salt.
  2. Add one piece of fruit. This could be fresh fruit like cut up melons, some banana or some grapes. It could also be canned or frozen fruit, such as frozen blueberries or tinned peaches, or it could be dried fruits like  sultanas, dates, dried mango or apple. Or you could bake with fruit. You could make some blueberry and banana muffins or blend up some date and oat balls with some peanut butter.
  3. Add one portion of dairy or dairy alternative. This could be yoghurt in tubs or little pouches, plain yoghurt with fresh fruit, honey or cinnamon added. It could include mini milk boxes, smoothies, cheese with crackers or in a sandwich or wrap. Or you might just have some little Babybel cheese pieces or something similar.
  4. Add one portion of meat or an alternative. This could include a can of baked beans, chicken, or egg in a sandwich or wrap. You could put some tofu rice paper rolls in there, make some spaghetti bolognese using some mince, have a can of tuna with some crackers, or you could have some falafels, which are made out of chickpeas.
  5. Add two portions of grains. This could include two slices of bread for a sandwich or one wrap, some fried rice with some veggies and eggs, pasta salad, whole grain crackers like Vita-Weats or corn chips, mini Weat-Bix bites, oat muesli bars or granola.
  6. The sixth step is hydration. It’s really important to drink water, especially when you’re running around and staying active and getting sweaty, or it’s a really hot day. You could do this by keeping a frozen water bottle in your lunch box and that also keeps your food nice and cool. You could also eat some fresh fruits and veggies. Examples include watermelon, cucumber or orange, all of which are really high in water. Alternatively, you could make various soups. So this might be something you do in the winter when it’s a bit colder and you don’t really feel like drinking water very much. Soup, of course, has lots of water in it.

Example of a healthy lunch box

Lunchbox week pic

Above is a good example  of a healthy lunch box. Have a look and see if you can find all five food groups in this lunch box. Where do you think the vegetables and the fruits are? Where’s the dairy or an alternative to that? Where’s the meat or an alternative to that? And where are the grains? And then also have a think about something that you think looks really yummy in this lunch box that you might take to school one day.

Tips for Parents

The last thing I want to talk about is just some tips for parents. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by choices for your child’s lunch box, just focus on including the five food groups and making sure your kids stay hydrated. Anything else they eat can be outweighed by activity, having all of their veggies, grains, etc.

Check out Nutrition Australia’s tips for busy parents. There’s lots of videos there on how to manage time when you’re time poor; making things easier, and how to be more sustainable.

If your child has complex needs such as allergies, intolerances, gastrointestinal diseases, they are struggling with conditions like eating disorders or fussy eating. are going through high performance training or they are the autism spectrum; it’s important that their needs are met. In these cases, there are other things to consider apart from meeting the five food groups.

If you need assistance with this, consider booking an appointment to seek some individualised advice from your local dietitian. Learn more about HealthWISE’s dietetics services in your area here. You can also follow us on Instagram and Facebook, for more health tips, and to see the various events and programs that we have on offer.

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