I often get asked ‘what should I put in my child’s packed lunch?’. Well children need a wide variety of nutrients and plenty of energy throughout the day, after all, they are still growing and developing at varying rates. Their lunch needs to include the essential foods that will provide a good balance of their daily nutrient needs.

It’s recommended that a child’s daily packed lunch should include each of the 4 main food groups:

1. A portion of starchy carbohydrates. Include a combination of white & whole grain options and try and provide a variety over the week. Here are some examples of what you can include:

  • Bread & bagels
  • Wraps & pittas
  • Flatbread & crackers
  • Pasta
  • Potato
  • Rice
  • Couscous

2. A portion of fruit and a portion of salad or vegetables (bite-sized & pre-prepared!) such as:

  • Tomato in a sandwich
  • Chopped fruit such as berries
  • Cucumber or pepper sticks
  • Fruit salad

3. A portion of protein/iron rich food e.g.

  • Beans & pulses
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Meat
  • Meat-free alternatives

4. A portion of dairy food such as:

  • Plain yoghurt
  • Cheese
  • Milk
  • Dips: You could try making a quick yoghurt dip tzatziki style with thick plain yoghurt, grated cucumber, chopped mint & lemon juice for dipping pitta bread fingers or pepper sticks.

5. Don’t forget a drink. It’s important to stay hydrated especially in hot weather & when running around, so opt for plain milk or tap water.

Here are some of my top tips for a winning packed lunch:

  • Check with your nursery or school for a food/packed lunch policy. What do they allow and not allow? For example, many nurseries ban nuts and nut products in packed lunches.
  • Talk to your children about what you’re going to put in their lunchbox. Give them an option a and b for each day to give them some independence and control. You can even let them help with the food shop and packing too.
  • Vary the food offered each day. It’s more exciting for your little ones & helps support a varied diet. Including different coloured fruit & vegetables each day is a good prompt.
  • Write a rough plan at the start of each week so they have an idea of what their packed lunch will comprise of each day, with the aim of minimising food waste & utilising leftovers.
  • For younger children use crinkle or novelty shaped cutters on fruit & veg. Such as melon, cucumber or courgette.
  • For convenience tinned fruit (in juice, not syrup) is a great option when running low on fresh produce. Pear, mango, peaches & mandarins are widely available & equally delicious!
  • Avoid single use cling film & plastic sandwich bags where possible for environmental reasons. Instead use reusable containers &/or wax wrap.
  • Sneak a love note into their lunchbox! They will love finding this surprise & enjoy sharing the ‘thought of the day’ with their friends.

You’re also bound to notice how hungry your little one is as they run through the door after school, so it’s great to have some healthy snacks ready. Here are some fab recipes from the Little Dish Family Cookbook that are ideal for lunchboxes and after school snaking.

Chicken, Pesto & Mozzarella Wraps - Wholemeal tortilla wraps filled with pesto, shredded chicken and creamy mozzarella. These are the perfect size for little hands to hold.

Hummus & Carrot Wraps - Grated carrot, cucumber slices and protein-packed hummus make this wrap a great veggie option for your little one.  

Pitta Chips - This recipe is a fun alternative to soggy sandwiches and yummy served with a little pot of hummus.

Courgette And Feta Muffins - These courgette and feta muffins make delicious lunchbox fillers or a nutritious snack for big and little kids.

Healthy Fruit Muffins - These make a delicious fruity treat for little lunchboxes. Make a batch and freeze them.

We hope these recipes and tips are helpful and your little one enjoys their first day back.

For more toddler feeding advice from Charlotte, visit www.srnutrition.co.uk or follow @littledish on Instagram