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Affordable lunchbox ideas for kids

Say goodbye to boring lunches! Check out our range of nutritious, delicious and affordable lunchbox recipes.

Who says healthy kids’ lunchboxes have to be boring?

It’s time to step up your lunchbox game with a range of different healthy options to ensure your tamariki are feeding up on their 5+ A Day whether they’re at school or on the go for the weekend.

Preparing lunch for your kids isn’t always easy — and making sure they actually want to eat it is the hardest part. Fortunately, there are loads of ways to keep your kids’ school lunch fresh and exciting. Check out our fun, tasty and healthy tips for sprucing up your kids’ lunches on budget.

Kids’ lunchbox must-haves

There’s lots to consider when assembling an exciting lunch on the run for your kids. It’s a good idea to build your lunchbox around a few essentials, so your little ones have plenty of energy for the day and all the nutrients they need to grow strong.

To ensure a balanced and healthy diet, it’s a great idea to structure your lunchboxes to include foods from every food group. These groups are:

1. Fruit and veges

Keep up your kids’ 5+ A Day with lots of fresh, colourful fruit and veg! The Ministry of Health recommends children aged 5 to 12 have at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit every day. The lunchbox is a prime opportunity to sneak some nutritious goodies into your kids’ kai. 

It’s really important to make eating fruits and vegetables fun in your kids’ formative years, so they go through life excited to eat well. To save money on your fruit and veg, try to only buy in-season produce and make sure you’re storing it properly. You can also choose canned or frozen fruit and veggies where appropriate.

Finally, always remember to keep fruit and vegetables fun for your kids. This means providing a range of different coloured options — from green leafy vegetables to bright red strawberries and vibrant mandarin oranges.

Here are a few ways to include fruit and veggies in your kids’ school lunches:

  • Cut carrots and celery into small sticks for easier eating and fun crunch. Throw in a pottle of a school-safe dip such as hummus or tzatziki for variety.
  • Cover apple slices in lemon juice before adding them to the lunchbox to stop them going brown before lunch.
  • Cherry tomatoes are a delicious bite-sized treat full of exciting textures and last very well at room temperature.
  • Pack delicious sandwiches full of all sorts of salad to tick off one of your kids’ 5+ A Day and a serving of grain foods at the same time.


2. Grain foods

Grain foods refers to any product made from grains such as bread, pasta, rice or cereal. These are a fantastic source of carbohydrates for your kids, giving them lots of energy to run around the playground. For the healthiest option, go for wholegrain and low-GI varieties. These are higher in fibre and other important vitamins and minerals, meaning they provide slower-burning energy to keep your kids full for longer. Many parents include a healthy sandwich to cover a serving or two of grain foods.

Here are a few more ways to get grains into your children's diets:

  • Include some healthy crackers such as cruskits or rice crackers with hummus, cheese or other tasty bits for some interactive lunchbox snacks.
  • Avoid sweet crackers and biscuits as these often have lots of unnecessary sugar.
  • Serve up pasta salad loaded with veggies from last night’s dinner (don’t forget to include a fork!).
  • Roll up some homemade brown rice sushi with your kids’ favourite fillings like teriyaki chicken, tuna or cream cheese.
  • Switch up the weekday sandwich with a stuffed pita bread.


3. Dairy

It’s important your child is getting plenty of calcium and other nutrients from dairy to help with the development of strong bones, teeth and muscles. Be careful when packing dairy products, as you’ll need to be sure they can last for a few hours out of the fridge and won’t spill easily. Pop your kids’ lunch and an ice pack in a thermal lunch bag to keep it cool through the morning.

If your child can’t handle dairy, don’t fret! There are plenty of non-dairy options you can include such as fortified breads and dairy-free cheeses. If you aren’t sure about a product, it’s a good idea to consult with your child’s doctor.

Here’s how you can include dairy in your kids’ lunches:

  • A pottle of their favourite yogurt can go down a treat — just avoid options with lots of sugar and fat!
  • Cut up sticks or cubes of cheese (or a dairy-free alternative) for snacking. Add slices of cheese to a tasty chicken and salad sandwich.
  • Provide dairy-based dips for fruit and veggies, such as yogurt or cottage cheese.
  • If you’re worried about waste, buy yogurt in a bigger container and serve it up in a reusable snack pot.


4. Proteins (lean meats and alternatives)

Lastly, think about lean meats. Or, if your child is vegetarian, look for suitable alternatives like hard boiled eggs or legumes (beans, peas and lentils). These options are your kids’ main source of protein, as well as some healthy fats. They often also contain iron, which is crucial for the blood, brain and energy levels.

The reason we say “lean meats” is because too much fat isn’t great for you or your kids. Chicken and seafood are great lean options, or you can opt for red meat and cut off excess fat before serving. It’s also a good idea to avoid too many processed meats like luncheon, salami and ham. These are delicious but because they’re often high in fat and salt, should be kept to a “sometimes food”.

Here’s how to include lean meats and alternatives in your kids’ lunches:

  • Buy cooked shredded chicken from your PAK’nSAVE deli or shred up the leftovers from a roast dinner to make a delicious filling for sandwiches, or to go in a salad.
  • Cans of tuna are a great source of protein and easily eaten straight from the tin or in a sandwich or sushi.
  • Eggs can be hard boiled, peeled and cut up for a lunchbox. For variety try devilling them or making egg salad sandwiches.
  • Baked falafel bites and edamame beans are a great vegetarian alternative. Try experimenting with your own falafel mix to keep flavours exciting.


Lunchbox ideas

Below, we’ve sorted a range of lunchbox options into these categories for you to make it easier to plan your childrens’ weekday lunches.

Healthy lunchbox mains

  • Sandwiches are an easy go-to option. Fill up a bread roll with slices of cucumber, tomato and cheese as well as lean meat and a handful of lettuce.
  • Try out Meatball Sub - a great way to put an exciting twist on sandwiches.
  • Serve up a personal pizza to provide dairy and grain foods, like this Kids Pizza. Try using pita breads as a base or switching up toppings any way you and the kids like — see Pita Bread Pizzas for inspiration!
  • Cook Kids Frittata in a muffin tin and freeze servings to make ahead for a week or two. Just defrost them in the fridge the night before.
  • A Bacon and Baked Bean Muffin can be a substantial part of your kids’ meal, or bake them as mini-muffins to include as a snack.
  • Swap the sandwich for a wrap or tortilla and try these Chicken Burritos. For a vegetarian feed, get a taste of these Sweet Chilli Falafel Wraps.

Affordable lunchbox fruit and veggies

  • Pre-peeled baby carrots are a delicious and perfectly sized healthy snack for any kid’s lunchbox. Even better, they save you prep time.
  • Pick “interactive” fruits like a mandarin or a banana — your kids get to play with the peel a bit, keeping them engaged with their food.
  • Smaller fruit like grapes, cherry tomatoes, and berries are easy to throw in the lunchbox with no extra prep.
  • For picky eaters, try including fruit and veggies in other parts of their lunchbox, such as these Peach and Yogurt Muffins.

Healthy lunchbox snacks

  • Pack loads of healthy energy into your kids’ lunches with these Apricot and Almond Energy Bars.
  • These Kids Boost Balls are full of natural goodness — just check your child is allowed peanut-based snacks at school.
  • For a healthy alternative to potato chips, try making your own Pita Chips and serving with a yummy dip like hummus.
  • Popcorn isn’t just a naughty treat for the movies — without all the butter and salt, it can be a healthy lunchtime snack too. Try out our DIY Kettle Corn recipe.
  • Sweet Corn Fritters can be made the night before and are a delicious way to sneak lots of veggies into lunch. Try using grated courgette instead of corn!
  • For a sneaky sweet treat, try popping one of these Oat Cookies into your kids’ lunchboxes.
  • Bring some extra protein into lunch with these Mini Bacon and Egg Pies. Make them any size you want or include more than one to use as snacks or a lunchbox main.
  • Prepare any kind of healthy fruit muffin, from these Pear and Vanilla Crumble Muffins to some tasty Blueberry Bran Muffins and use mini muffin tins to make them snack-sized.

What does a single serving look like?

When putting your kids’ lunchboxes together, you need to pay attention to how much food you’re giving them, so they’re not missing out on any important nutrients.

When buying packaged foods, including some produce, the nutritional information on the packaging will let you know what one serving looks like, and what nutrients that serving contains. When you’re buying loose produce or service deli products, it’s a little bit harder to know for sure. As a general rule, one serving of fruit and veggies is about a handful for whoever will be eating it. So, a serving for you is probably much bigger than a serving for your children. Get your kids involved in making their lunches and measuring out servings using their hands — just remember to get everyone to wash their hands before and after handling food.

Healthy lunchbox tips

  • Get kids involved in making their school lunches and try bringing them along for the grocery shop. If they choose their food, they’re more likely to eat.
  • Consider what dinner recipes you have that could double as leftovers for kids’ lunches. Frittata or quiche, single-serve pies, or roast dinners can easily be repurposed.
  • Chop up fruit to make it easier to bite or encourage picky eaters to enjoy it. You can toss any fruit in a bit of lemon juice to prevent it from going brown.
  • Always check if your kids’ school has any restrictions on lunch foods. Many schools don’t allow nuts, so it’s important to check before you send your kid to school with a peanut butter and jam sandwich.
  • Instead of an ice pack, freeze a water overnight and pop it in a waterproof lunch bag with the rest of the lunch. This will help keep things cool and be ready to drink by lunchtime!

For more inspiration for your lunchbox, dinner or any meal of the day, browse our full range of recipes here.