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10 easy food swaps for a healthy lunchbox

By Susie Burrell 2 min read
Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Tearing your hair out trying to think of nutritious yet tasty lunchbox fillers? A dietitian gives you 10 simple ideas.

Primary school-aged children consume up to 30 per cent of their daily food while they are at school. The juggle is not only to make sure their school lunchbox contains things that they will eat, but also the right mix of foods from the major food groups. 

10 lunchbox ideas for a healthy school lunch

If you're constantly on the lookout for new and exciting lunchbox options, here are some easy swaps that kids will not only love, but that will also boost the nutritional profile of the lunchbox. Note: You don't need a bento box for this.

1. Swap sandwiches for coloured wraps

Even adults can get bored with sandwiches all the time. The growing range of vegetable-based wraps means you can not only add extra colour to your child's packed lunch, you can boost your child’s veggie intake at the same time. Look for green spinach, red beetroot or orange sweet potato wraps and fill them with tasty, protein-rich sandwich fillings. You could try egg and mayo, mashing some chickpeas to pair hummus with cheese, or Tassal smoked salmon and cream cheese.

2. Swap whole pieces of fruit for chopped or frozen

Small, pieces of chopped food, along with plenty of colours appeal to children. An easy way to make fruit more appealing is to serve them chopped, in small containers or bite-sized pieces. Cherry tomatoes or mandarin wedges work really well. You could also try freezing grapes or berries for a crunchy alternative, especially in the warmer weather.

3. Swap spreads for dips

A small container of dip is a great way to encourage veg consumption at school. Think hummus with carrot, cucumber or zucchini sticks, mini cream cheese with oatmeal crackers, or avocado (with a little lemon to prevent browning) with wholegrain rice crackers.

4. Swap veggies for edamame

The bright colours and crunchiness of protein- and fibre-rich edamame beans make them highly appealing to young children. It makes them a great swap for traditional carrot and celery sticks.

5. Swap sandwiches for sushi

Kids generally love sushi and nutritionally, they can be the perfect sandwich replacement. Try a mix of wholegrain brown rice, veg and a protein-rich filling such as Tassal smoked salmon, or for a vegetarian option, use quinoa (instead of rice), veg and tofu or egg. You could even try sushi balls as a twist.

6. Swap fruit yoghurt to natural

With a number of kids’ yoghurts still containing plenty of sugar, a simple swap to natural or Greek yoghurt is a great option. Taste-wise, plain yoghurt is not always popular, but if you add a little honey or fresh fruit and freeze it, you can create a lower-sugar yoghurt option the kids will love.

7. Swap juice to milk

Adding a fruit juice popper to lunchboxes may be second nature for some, but swapping to a milk-based option will boost children’s calcium and protein intake. It also significantly reduces their intake of concentrated sugars.

8. Swap chips for veggie snacks

There is a growing range of baked legumes and pea snacks that make much healthier alternatives to potato chips and cheesy snacks. Popcorn is also a much better option than chips nutritionally thanks to its wholegrain content.

9. Swap tuna for salmon

Tuna is a popular sandwich or salad filler, but canned salmon contains more omega-3. Team some mashed Tassal salmon with a little mayo or avocado and tortilla for a delicious wrap. 

Swap the same old for a treat

Kids, like adults ,can get bored very quickly when they are eating the same thing day in, day out. Include a small weekly treat to keep your healthy lunchbox fresh and exciting. It may be homemade muffins or banana bread, leftover cake from a party or even a bite-sized chocolate. This little treat will make a big difference to how your little one views their lunchbox.

Susie Burrell is a Sydney-based dietitian who has worked with children and families for more than 20 years. Susie is the resident dietitian at Channel 7’s Sunrise and consultant dietitian at Tassal—for Aussie omega-3-rich salmon.