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Lunch That Packs A Punch

The tips below will help you to stock your pantry and fridge with lunch box essentials so that you can pack healthy lunches in no time.   Be sure to combine a variety of colours and textures from the different food groups to obtain all the required nutrients without excess energy (kilojoule) intake.   Your aim should be to get the lunch box back empty!  Although the information below was written with kids in mind, it can most certainly be applied to adult lunch boxes.  Simply increase the size of the lunch box and the portion sizes.  It is based on a Low GI & Low Fat lifestyle.


  • plan ahead to avoid daily trips to the grocery store
  • prepare and pack in advance – do not leave it for the morning
  • use the plate model (see below)
  • participation – allow your kids to take part in getting items ready for lunch boxes, such as dividing dried fruit into small containers, etc.
  • add some pizzazz or a surprise element, i.e. wrap sandwiches in coloured waxpaper or use plain waxpaper and add stickers in a colour or theme that your child will like

Below is a quick summary of how easy it is to plan a balanced meal based on the “plate model”. The plate model can easily be adapted to lunch boxes.  All you need to do is to stick to a few simple rules:

  • half of the plate or container should be filled with raw or cooked vegetables and raw or cooked fruit.
  • add healthy protein the size of your child’s hand
  • add starch the size of your child’s fist
  • add dairy in the form of milk or yoghurt (about 100 ml)
  • add one fat, e.g. 5 almonds or walnuts or pecan nut halves, 15 ml mayonnaise, 25 g avo, etc.

Note: dried fruit portions should be kept small, e.g. 3 apple rings, four dried apricot halves, etc. due to the GL.  Include as a treat instead of sweets.

You will also need the following:

  • a decent size lunch box with tight fitting lid (20 x 15 cm x 10 cm) or a small cooler bag (20 x 15 x 15 cm)
  • include a plastic fork or spoon if relevant as well as a colourful serviette!
  • small bottle for water (best choice) or plain or lightly flavoured milk
  • an ice-pack – to keep food that can spoil cold!  Alternatively place the water bottle in the freezer overnight for an instant ice-pack as well as a icy drink.
  • a variety of small containers (15 ml, 30 ml and 50 ml) with lids for smaller items such as nuts, berries, peas, etc. It can also be used for sauce or yoghurt.
  • 10 cm cocktail sticks – the ones that only has one sharp end (great for mini vegetable or fruit sosaties)
  • an electronic kitchen scale to measure accurately.  Eye-balling it usually tends to be too much!
  • sandwich or cookie cutters in a variety of shapes and sizes to cut sandwiches into cool shapes. Tip: place two slices of bread on top of each other and cut out the shape with the cutter of your choice.  Place the two shaped slices of the bread next to each other and spread with the filling of your choice.  Place the crust cut-offs in a food processor to make breadcrumbs and store in a zip lock bag in the freezer for another day.

Lunch box (boys) – Low GI Bread With peanut butter, banana, a seed cluster & water.

Lunch box (girls) – pasta & veg salad, banana, small container with candy & water.

Below is a list of options to help you pack child-friendly lunch boxes will ensure lunch gets eaten and kids perform at their best this year.

Fruit – for vitamins and fibre

Fresh options – small apples, cubed avocado with a little lemon juice, small banana, blue berries, grapes, peeled litchi, naartjie, peach or nectarine, cubed pineapple, strawberries, cubed watermelon or melon

Dried options – apple rings, apricot, mango, pitted prunes, raisins/sultanas

Tinned options – peach, apple, pear, litchi, mango, etc.  Opt for the fruit in juice or discard the syrup.

Vegetables – for antioxidants and fibre

Raw options – cherry tomatoes, cucumber sticks, carrot sticks or baby carrots, sugar snap peas, grated carrot mixed with grated apple and orange juice, coleslaw made with shredded cabbage, carrot, apple, raisins and vanilla-flavoured yoghurt, etc.
Cooked options – steamed and diced baby potatoes (with skin on) or sweet potato mixed with a little sauce.
Tinned options – whole kernel corn, creamed corn, green beans, peas, etc.

Dairy foods – for calcium and protein
100 ml tub low fat or fat free yoghurt plain or sweetened or milk

Protein foods –  for key nutrients such as iron, zinc, omega-3 and B vitamins
Home-made options
– 1 large egg (hard-boiled and shelled or scrambled as a filling for a sandwich)
– 2 mini meatballs
– 2 mini quiche or frittata
– 1/3 tin tuna in brine drained and mixed with a little home-made dressing or sauce
– 30 g lean leftover meat
– 30 g cubed or skewered grilled or baked chicken breast
– 30 grilled fish or fish cakes made from tuna or salmon

Ready-bought options (try to keep ready-bought items for a special treat)
– 20 g biltong sticks or biltong
– 30 g cheese portion
– 30 g cocktail vienna’s (cut a cross at each end before heating it in the oven)
– 2 mini meatballs
– 30 g sliced cold processed meat such as cooked ham, beef, chicken or turkey

Starchy or grain-based foods –  for fibre and slow release energy

Home-made options

  • pasta salad (combine cooked pasta shapes, corn kernels, peas and cubed cheese with home made dressing or sauce or add a little mashed up baked beans ;
  • potato salad (baby potatoes steamed in the skin and quartered, corn kernels, peas and cubed cheese with cottage cheese
  • Lemon, Apple & Poppy Seed Muffins
  • Wheat-free Pizza Muffins

Ready-bought options 

  • 60 ml chickpeas (drained).  Serve as is or with a little home-made dressing
  • 2 slices low GI bread such as Sasko Low GI Whole Wheat Brown Loaf, Woolworths Seed Loaf, etc. with Bovril, Marmite, mashed baked beans, cheese or cottage cheese, peanut butter, etc.
  • 3 Provita’s (original or multi-grain), etc.

Treats or occasional snacks
Many popular snacks eaten by children, such as biscuits, crisps, cakes, chocolate bars, soft drinks, etc. are high in kilojoules, salt or sugar and are low in nutrients like vitamins, minerals and fibre. These items can be included in a balanced healthy diet but should not be eaten on a daily basis. Serve or purchase these foods only occasionally and don’t let them take over the pantry, fridge or lunchboxes.  For instance, buying a larger packet of crisps works out cheaper than buying individual portions and it will last much longer if you portion it out for lunch boxes.

Home-made options

Ready-bought options (try to keep ready-bought items for a special treat and keep portion sizes very small

  • Sweets: 15 g Smarties, 1 x mini fizzer, 1 x 20 g bite-sized chocolate, etc.
  • Crisps: 5 crisps from larger packet instead of the whole 25 g individual packet
  • Biltong or biltong sticks: 20 g instead of the whole 100 g packet

Water is the healthiest and cheapest way to keep your child hydrated throughout the day and should be the drink of choice for every lunchbox. You can also opt for plain milk or milk with a dash of Milo, Nesquick, etc.  Do not feel obliged to use heaped spoonfuls as prescribed by the container!