How to build a nutritionally balanced lunchbox

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  • Having a nutritionally balanced lunchbox helps sustain energy levels for the remainder of the day.
  • A healthy lunchbox doesn't have to be dull and tasteless.
  • Set aside some time to plan and prepare your lunchbox meals and make it a fun exercise.

Our lives are busy and lunch is a meal we often neglect. Without a lunchbox containing a quality meal and snacks, your energy levels may drop, leading to poor concentration and sub-optimal performance.

Lunchtime is an opportunity to give your brain a break and refuel your body with the nutrients it needs for the rest of the day.

And once you have your own lunchbox sorted, there's the rest of the family to consider.

Children need the right nutrients to support their growing bodies and brains and good nutrition during childhood is linked to improved concentration and better performance at school.

Preparing lunchboxes doesn’t need to be a daunting task. All it takes is good meal planning and a bit of shopping, and preparation, which you can do over the weekend.

Here are six tips on how to build a nutritionally complete lunchbox:

1. Keep it balanced

The plate model is a visual illustration showing suitable food distribution. A balanced lunchbox with a good selection of whole grains, vegetables, fats and protein will keep your blood glucose levels sustained, preventing lows and guaranteeing sufficient energy and nourishment for the rest of the day.

2. Protein for taste and satiety

Protein adds to the satiety value of the meal. Choose lean protein sources such as canned fish (tuna, mackerel, salmon, pilchards, sardines), chicken (without skin) and lean cold meat (pastrami) and biltong (visible fat removed). Vegetarian sources can include boiled eggs, canned legumes, tofu, or low-fat cheese or yoghurt.

3. Fuller for longer. Wholegrains are perfect 

Fibre slows digestion and unrefined starches provide a steady supply of energy throughout the day. Fibre also keeps you feeling fuller for longer. Sources include corn, legumes, baby potatoes (with skin), quinoa, heavy seed bread, whole grain crackers, whole wheat pasta and brown rice. Remember not to skimp on carbs at lunch as it can lead to blood glucose dips later in the afternoon, increasing the temptation of inappropriate snacking.

4. Include vegetables for colour and crunch

When prepping a lunch box, cut up some raw veggies like carrot strips, cucumber, peppers, tomatoes, celery, and sugar snap peas. Salads or homemade veggie soup is also a great way to enjoy vegetables. To ensure variety, the soup or salad can be swapped for fresh fruit.

5. Don't forget the water

Remember to pack a bottle of water. To improve the taste of water, you can add cut fresh fruit or cucumber or mint leaves. Bottles with straws can also be helpful, and drinking from a bigger bottle will ensure that you drink enough water to maintain hydration. Fizzy cold drinks, fruit juices and sports drinks should be limited or avoided. These include added sugars that can disrupt energy levels and appetite and contribute to tooth decay.

6. Get your kids involved

If you are packing lunchboxes for your children, let them choose healthy options. This will build their knowledge and skills around healthy eating from an early age. Including your child in the preparation is a lovely way to make them more interested in nutrition and give them a say in what they have for lunch. 

Lunch suggestions
Suggestions for healthy lunches and snacks.

Nutritionally balanced meals will help ensure your family stays well nourished. This will contribute to weight control and ensure the whole family enjoys optimal energy and appetite control throughout the day. 

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