Need inspiration for a nutritious kids' lunch box? We've got lots of great packed lunch ideas including frittatas and savoury muffins as well as healthy snacks and sweet treats.
Say goodbye to those classic sandwich fillings and hello to an array of vibrant, wholesome, and filling lunch box foods - perfect for older children and adults alike. "While it’s tempting to buy a lot of pre-packaged lunch items for a children’s packed lunch – and no judgment here, I mean really, who here has time to spare in the morning? - making a healthy packed lunch doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming," says nutritionist Alex Allan. "It just takes a little forward thinking. Plus, homemade can be delicious – preventing the dreaded return of a half-full lunchbox…"
Alex advises doing a bit of prep at the weekend; "To keep time spent to a minimum, think about which recipes you can prep for the rest of the week so that you can just assemble a lunchbox each morning with healthy items. Baked goods, such as malt loaf or healthy cookies, chopped veggies, pasta salads, homemade dips – these can all be prepped in advance to save you time on a weekday morning.".
And it's not just about the food that's in one of our best lunch boxes either, it's about the lunchbox itself and how easy it is to pack and unpack as well as keeping food cold before the dinner bell rings. "Think about getting a stainless steel bento box or similar, so that each compartment holds something interesting. This is a real winner with children – plus it makes it easy to remember each component that you need to assemble a healthy lunch that your children will actually eat."
Healthy lunchbox ideas
1. Hummus wraps
Serves: 4 | Total time: 15 mins | When to make: Night before
A good hummus dip has become quite the staple in UK households, and all the better if you make it yourself – both taste and budget-wise. Prepare a big batch at the weekend or the night before and it'll see you through the week, in wraps with salad, paired with falafel or leftover meat like shredded roast chicken or lamb, or with a big tub of crudités.
Using only five ingredients (and the ground cumin is optional), having a tub of tahini and some tinned chickpeas in the store cupboard means you can quickly whip up a protein and healthy fat-rich (not to mention vegan) hummus in no time, any time.
Get the recipe: Hummus
2. Moroccan chicken pockets
Serves: 1 | Total time: 10 mins | When to make: In the morning
A refreshing change from a plain, limp chicken butty, this north African-inspired stuffed pitta will even please fussy eaters. A great one for leftover roast meat from Sunday lunch, the dried apricots and yogurt give a Moroccan flavour.
Pack it with more salad items – peppers, olives, cucumbers – to up the nutrients, and, if making it for yourself or for kids who can handle spice, flavour the chicken with a touch of harissa paste.
Get the recipe: Moroccan chicken pockets
3. Quiche toasties
Serves: 12 | Total time: 50 mins | When to make: Night before
An inventive fusion of two lunch favourites – quiche and toasted sandwiches – pizza-loving kids will adore these cheese and tomato-topped lunchbox fillers. Their manageable size makes them a perfect lunch box filler, and they're delicious hot, so could be batch-cooked for dinner with veggies and salad and then used for packed lunches through the week. Give the kids some chopped veg sticks to go alongside.
Get the recipe: Quiche toasties
4. Spanish tortilla with artichokes
Serves: 10 | Total time: 30 mins | When to make: Either night before or morning
A Spanish tortilla is packed full of protein and simple to put together, with the base ingredients of diced potatoes, eggs, and onion serving as a building block for any other ingredients you might want to use.
This one uses artichokes from a jar, but it's equally great use for leftover veggies and whatever you have in the house – fresh tomatoes, broccoli, mushrooms, and any jarred ingredients in the fridge, such as sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and peppers. Freestyling is positively encouraged. Just pop a generous slice in the lunch box.
Get the recipe: Spanish tortilla with artichokes
5. Jumbo herby sausage rolls
Serves: 6 | Total time: 1 hr | When to make: Night before
Who doesn't love a sausage roll? These ones are simple and tasty, with sage and wholegrain mustard as the winning ingredients. Knock up a batch at the weekend or one evening and freeze some for another day. They'll be a serious hit, just make sure you serve them with some veggies alongside for balance. Baked beans in a hot flask could be a big hit as well.
Get the recipe: Jumbo herby sausage rolls
6. Lemongrass and lime herby chicken kebabs
Serves: 1-2 | Total time: 20 mins | When to make: Night before
A brilliant protein hit, kids adore a good kebab. Stuff them in a pitta with salad and Greek yogurt, or pop a tub of dip, like tzatziki, or even a sweet chilli or Thai dipping sauce, in the lunchbox to have alongside.
Get the recipe: Lemongrass and lime herby chicken kebabs
7. Smoky cheese, bacon, baby leek and potato tart
Serves: 6-8 | Total time: 1 hr 20 mins | When to make: Night before
Using readymade shortcrust pastry, this French-inspired tart can be adapted to suit tastes. The smoked cheddar gives a distinctive flavour, but feel free to use regular (strong!) cheddar should taste buds prefer.
The bacon can also be omitted, though we would certainly keep in the leeks/spring onions for sharpness and balance. Don't forget to grill the cheese, though it does taste almost as good cold, sliced in a lunch box with a side of cherry tomatoes and cucumbers for a vitamin hit.
Get the recipe: Smoky cheese, bacon, baby leek and potato tart
8. Edam, bacon and sun-dried tomato muffins
Serves: 10 | Total time: 30 mins | When to make: Night before
Boy, are these tasty. The saltiness of the bacon and the cheese, the sweet-yet-sharp sun-dried tomatoes, the comfort of the spongy muffin. An inventive lunch that'll be an absolute triumph with guaranteed zero leftovers. Leave out the bacon, should you wish, and add salad and fruit as an extra – grapes and tomatoes are perfect here.
Get the recipe: Edam, bacon and sun-dried tomato muffins
9. Cheese and corn mini scones
Serves: 28 | Total time: 10 mins | When to make: Night before
Savoury scones will be a hit for kids – and parents too, with the unusual hidden veggie element here. Sweet corn is always a winner for children and pairs brilliantly here with the salty cheese. Serve alongside some sliced ham for extra protein for meat eaters, or some vegan ham for veggies, and a selection of chopped fruit and veggies – apples, grapes, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives will all work well.
Get the recipe: Cheese and corn mini scones
10. Hairy Bikers' Cornish pasty
Serves: 6 | Total time: 1 hr 10 mins | When to make: Night before
An absolute stormer of a lunch. Make up a batch of the Hairy Bikers' Cornish pasties and pop the leftovers in the freezer until you need them. A classic combo of potato, swede (otherwise it's not a proper pasty – though you could throw out the rule book and also add carrots), and beef – the bikers use the skirt as their cut of meat – this recipe uses homemade shortcrust pastry, but buying readymade is absolutely acceptable too.
Make them bite-sized for younger children, so they don't feel too overwhelmed by the heft of a full pasty.
Get the recipe: Hairy Bikers’ Cornish Pasty
11. Avocado and minty beans pasta salad
Serves: 4 | Total time: 30 mins | When to make: Night before or in the morning
This pasta salad is a perfectly balanced, perfectly tasty nutritious lunch. Packed with protein in the edamame and broad beans (which are easily added from frozen) and the crumbly feta, and good fats in the avocado and the olive oil dressing, the carbs from the pasta will also keep everyone full all afternoon.
Add some shredded chicken or prawns for an extra protein hit, should you desire.
Get the recipe: Avocado and minty beans pasta salad
12. Roll up sandwiches
Serves: 1 | Total time: 20 mins | When to make: In the morning
Roll out the bread, then roll up the bread... Fill with anything from cheese and pickle to hummus and salad, ham, tuna mayo, or even jam, then slice them into four pieces. It'll be a talking point around the school dinner table, for sure, and, if your morning isn't already hectic enough, the kids can get stuck into help making them.
Get the recipe: Roll-up sandwiches
13. Falafel bites
Serves: 4 | Total time: 30 mins | When to make: Night before
Falafel is usually deep-fried, but this version cuts back the need for excess oil, instead oven baking them with just a brushing of olive oil. Pair with rice or couscous, hummus, and salad, or stuff them into pitta pockets with Greek yogurt, cucumber, and shredded carrot. Delicious, nutritious, and great for vegetarians, or to help cut down on general meat consumption.
Get the recipe: Oven-baked falafel bites
14. Salt beef sandwich
Serves: 10 | Total time: 3 hrs 30 mins | When to make: Weekend before/in the morning
Add plenty of flavour to your beef by pickling it and leaving it until it's beautifully flavoursome and tender. There's no denying this is a time-consuming business, but it's ever so satisfying. Do the pickling on a quiet moment during the weekend, leave it for a week and you'll have glorious sandwiches for the coming days that can be quickly prepped in the morning before school and work.
Serve on rye bread or in bagels, with butter, light mustard, and sliced gherkins from a jar. Delicious, and worth every second of prep.
Get the recipe: Homemade salt beef
15. Low sugar malt loaf bars
Serves: 8 | Total time: 1 hr 10 mins | When to make: Night before
Far healthier than their shop-bought counterparts, these low-sugar malt loaf bars are the perfect packed lunch snack for you and/or the kids. They contain zero added sugar, with the sweetness coming from the honey and sultanas, and the distinctive flavour from malt extract as well as a generous splash of cold black tea (that undrunk brew needn't go to waste after all).
They will keep for 2-3 days in an airtight container.
Get the recipe: Low-sugar malt loaf bars
16. Homemade pitta crisps
Serves: 50 | Total time: 20 mins | When to make: Night before/Morning
Homemade pitta crisps are much healthier than fatty shop-bought crisps. They don't take long at all to make and are perfect for using up leftover pita bread, drizzled with oil, and topped with flavourings such as paprika or BBQ seasoning. Ideal for lunch boxes along with crudités to dip into hummus, cream cheese, guacamole, or any other dips of choice.
Get the recipe: Homemade pitta crisps
17. Raisin and banana cookies
Serves: 16 | Total time: 25 mins | When to make: Night before
Much like banana bread, baking these cookies is a great way to use up those over-ripe bananas that have been feeling sorry for themselves in the fruit bowl. They're a great, simple recipe to make with the kids, that they can then show off to their friends and teachers in their lunchboxes – and at least that token sugary treat will have some fruit lurking within, which is always good for welcome mum points.
Get the recipe: Raisin and banana cookies
18. Crunchy carrot and seed flapjacks
Serves: 20 | Total time: 25 mins | When to make: Night before
A 7-ingredient recipe, all that is needed is a few store-cupboard staples like butter, golden syrup, brown sugar, oats, and seeds to make these delicious flapjacks. The carrot gives an added and unexpected boost to kids' veggie intake, and the seeds provide protein and healthy fats.
Adding cinnamon and ginger to the mix works very well too, to replicate those classic carrot cake flavours.
Get the recipe: Crunchy carrot and seed flapjacks
Not forgetting our selection of healthy lunch recipes which are sure to make your mouth water.