Children's healthy lunchbox and snacks ideas can become a huge task and really get the blood pressure levels rising. The last minute panic when the bread has gone stale, you’ve run out of salad cream or someone has eaten the cheese that you’d put aside especially for the morning!

I know, I've been there too. However, finally, with 10 years of children's lunchbox & snack ideas experience under my belt, I’ve managed to get the lunchbox stress under control (more or less). Want to know how? Read on for some life-changing lunchbox tips and a free lunchbox planner!

Children's lunchbox essentials

There are a few pieces of lunch time equipment that I have found really helpful in changing the way I prep lunch and ensuring that the food options my children take are healthy and well balanced.

Bento box

We discovered the joy of bento lunch boxes a couple of years ago and haven’t looked back. There are lots of different styles to choose from but the principle benefits are:

  • lots of different compartments for your food

  • easy to include fruit and veg

  • less need for cling film

  • no separate pots that always seem to go missing

  • easy to wash up

  • healthy size portions for crisps and treats

Food thermos pot

These fab pots keep food hot or cold for up to 6 hours which means I can send the kids in with hot food for lunch! This adds so much diversity to the options they can take in and means I can really make the most of leftovers.

Silicone cake cases

If you want to separate food further in your bento box compartments, silicone cake cases are a great way to do this and easy to clean at the end of the day too

Using leftovers in your child's lunchbox

Imagine not having to make sandwiches in the morning because you made extra for dinner last night. Leftovers are my go-to for packed lunches. Whenever I’ve made rice, noodles, pasta, pizza or quiche the night before, I heat it up and pop in the thermos pot (rice, noodles and pasta). Pizza and quiche are great cold in the bento box.

How to avoid stinky eggs

Wraps have become a favourite in my house and they are easy to put together. I’ve also found them the best way of sending an egg in for lunch that doesn’t come with the unwelcome smell! I whisk up an egg and cook it as an omelette with any fillings e.g. cheese, ham, sweetcorn. Spread some salad cream, or my eldest likes spicy mayo, on to the wrap, pop the omelette on top, fold and it’s ready to go.

Getting in their five-a-day

Having separate compartments in the bento box makes it easy to pop in fruit and veg without making everything else soggy. I find bite size pieces are the best way to go. I try to have a selection in the fridge each week and get the kids to choose their fruit and veg selection each day.

Table listing commonly used fruits and vegetables including: cucumber, carrots, tomatoes, olives, peppers, sweetcorn, broccoli, roasted seaweed, crispy kale, lettuce, grapes, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, melon, kiwi, blackberries, mandarin segments, banana and apple.

Lunchbox snack ideas

Whole apples and wobbly teeth are not a good combination but apple slices go brown very quickly. My solution is using an apple cutter. Cut through the apple nearly the whole way leaving just a small bit attached at the bottom. Remove the cutter and leave the core in place. Wrap the whole apple in cling film or even with an elastic band to keep it together then your child can break off fresh segments when they are ready for lunch.

Two young girls in school uniform sit together on a bench eating packed lunches

Try using bite-sized food

Bite-size food does seem to have a stronger chance of being eaten. Try breadsticks with a hummus dip, small chunks of cheese, slices of sausage or breaded chicken, pizza cut into squares or sandwiches cut into different shapes using a cookie-cutter. 

Go for bigger packets and split them

Rather than having individual packets of crisps, biscuits etc use the bento compartments to put a few snacks in your child’s lunch. They’ll eat less of the things they don’t really need and you can save money and the environment by buying larger bags and splitting up snacks throughout the week.

Add something fun

It doesn’t need to be big but a little treat or something fun can bring a smile and a warm feeling to the end of lunch. It could be popcorn or a marshmallow, chocolate covered raisins or yoghurt covered pretzels. Or how about writing a message on a post-it note or drawing a face on their banana skin with a toothpick?

Gluten free lunchbox ideas

There are so many gluten-free lunchbox ideas that can keep your child interested in their lunch and provide a nutritionally balanced meal at school. When it comes to gluten-free options, you can...

  • Substitute regular bread with gluten-free bread or opt for lettuce wraps filled with sliced turkey, cheese, and fresh vegetables.

  • Include homemade gluten-free muffins or cookies as a delicious treat.

  • Pack a variety of fruits, such as sliced apples, grapes, or berries, for a refreshing and naturally gluten-free snack.

  • Consider adding gluten-free crackers with a side of hummus or nut butter for added protein and flavor.

  • Prepare a colourful salad with gluten-free grains like quinoa or rice, mixed with vegetables, and a protein source like grilled chicken or chickpeas.

  • Create a bento-style lunchbox with gluten-free deli meat roll-ups, cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, and gluten-free pretzels for a fun and balanced meal.

  • Don't forget to include a water bottle or a small carton of dairy-free milk to keep your child hydrated throughout the day.

By implementing these gluten-free lunchbox hacks, you can ensure that your child enjoys a diverse and satisfying lunch while sticking to their dietary needs at school.

Vegan Lunchbox Ideas

A slightly trickier one for some parents, especially if they aren't vegan themselves, but very achievable. We have put together some vegan lunchbox ideas to help make the process a bit more manageable. Here are some creative and nutritious vegan lunchbox options for your child:

  • Swap out traditional sandwich fillings with plant-based alternatives like hummus, avocado, or vegan cheese paired with crunchy veggies for a delicious and satisfying wrap.

  • Prepare colourful and protein-rich salads using a variety of vegetables, legumes, and grains such as quinoa or lentils, drizzled with a tasty vegan dressing.

  • Make a batch of homemade veggie burgers or falafel patties, which can be enjoyed cold and placed in a wholemeal bun or wrapped in lettuce leaves for a handheld meal.

  • Include a selection of fresh fruit such as sliced melon, berries, or citrus segments for a naturally sweet and vitamin-packed snack.

  • Pack a small container of mixed nuts, seeds, and dried fruits for a protein and energy boost throughout the day.

  • Create a veggie-packed pasta salad with gluten-free pasta or spiralised vegetables, mixed with cherry tomatoes, olives, and a zesty vegan dressing.

  • Fill a small pot with dairy-free yoghurt or chia seed pudding topped with granola or fresh berries for a creamy and nutritious treat.

  • Remember to provide a reusable water bottle or a carton of plant-based milk to keep your child hydrated and provide a refreshing beverage option.

By incorporating these vegan lunchbox ideas, you can ensure that your child's lunches are not only animal-friendly but also filled with essential nutrients and flavours to keep them satisfied and energised throughout the school day.

Free lunchbox planner

Planning is definitely key to having a stress-free start to the day. It’s a great way to get your kids involved too. Let them choose some of the items on the planner for each day and they’ll be excited about lunchtime. If you’re not sure where to start then follow our sample weekly plan. Swap things in to suit your family’s taste and your evening meals. Most of these are based on leftovers so there’s little preparation needed in the morning.

A weekly school lunchbox planner showing a breakdown per day of: main, veg, fuit, treat.

You can fill your own one out ready for the first week back to school!

And remember to share this planner with other members of the household so they know not to eat the ingredients beforehand! 😉

Emergency freezer option

My final tip – it’s always useful to have an emergency option to fall back on. My go to super-speedy option is the ‘bao bun’. These are tasty, filled chinese buns that can be heated in the microwave in less than a minute and popped in your bento box ready for later. 

For a helping hand throughout your family’s education journey, look no further than Explore Learning. With award-winning tuitionparenting advice and family friendly activities, you can trust us to be there for you every step of the way. 

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