The big five of a healthy lunchbox

By admin
22 June 2014

Children need balanced meals with ingredients from each of the five food groups and the contents of their lunchboxes should be no different. We tell you what to pack your brood.

Children need balanced meals with ingredients from each of the five food groups and the contents of their lunchboxes should be no different. Here’s what you should cover:

Protein – two portions a day

  • 1 portion = 30 g meat or 1 egg or ½ cup cooked legumes (dried beans, lentils etc) or 2 T peanut butter.
  • A portion of meat is the size of a child’s palm and the thickness of their baby finger.

Dairy – two portions a day

  • 1 portion = 1 cup milk or 180 ml yoghurt or 45 g cheese.

Starch – six to nine portions a day

  • 1 portion = 1 slice bread or ½ cup cooked porridge or 30-40 g breakfast cereal or ½ cup cooked pasta or rice or wheat

Fruit – two to three portions a day

  • 1 portion = fruit the size of a tennis ball or 125 ml juice.

Vegetables – 2 to 3 a day

  • 1 portion = ½ cup raw or cooked vegetables or 1 cup raw leafy vegetables.

Fat – eat sparingly

  • 1 portion = 1 t oil or soft margarine or 1 T nuts or seeds or ¼ avo.
  • A child needs 60-80 g fat a day (including fat occurring naturally in food). Choose lean meat cuts, use low-fat cooking methods and add 3-5 portions of healthy fat.

Snacks for toddlers and pre-schoolers

  • Children need to eat frequently. Between meals they should have healthy snacks, not potato crisps or sweets.
  • Toddlers love toast – use brown bread, spread the toast slices thinly with Marmite and cut them into fingers or use a cookie cutter to make fun shapes. Serve with a soft boiled egg in its shell, into which the toast fingers can be dunked. Older children will enjoy toast with baked beans in tomato sauce.
  • Rice cakes are usually a winner. Serve them plain or spread with a little Marmite, peanut butter or cheese wedges.
  • Let them nibble on biltong (this is particularly helpful when they’re teething), strips of dried mango or other dried fruit, pieces of fresh apple, carrot and banana.

Lunchbox ideas

  • Small drinking yoghurts and small containers of yoghurt
  • Small packets of unflavoured popcorn
  • Cheese wedges with wholewheat biscuits
  • Carrot strips, cucumber and mini-cobs
  • Small fruit portions such as apples, bananas and naartjies (peeled)
  • Cold pasta salad with tuna and mixed vegetables
  • Hardboiled eggs, shelled


  • Be cautious when you put leftover meat (especially chicken) in a child’s lunchbox, particular in hot weather. If the lunchbox is left lying in the sun for a long time before the child eats the food it could cause food poisoning.
  • Pre-schoolers love munching meat that’s on the bone. Drumsticks or lamb chops are ideal but make sure you remove obvious fat and loose or sharp pieces of bone – for example the sinewy bits of the drumstick – that they might swallow and choke on.
  • Teach kids to drink water instead of fruit juice, which contains a lot of sugar. Dilute fruit juice by half with water. In summer frozen water bottles will have defrosted by midmorning.

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