With more than half of children taking a packed lunch to school – that’s a staggering five billion lunches a year – not to mention the many office and outdoor workers who rely on them, it’s clear what a vital contribution lunchboxes make. That said, thinking up inspiring ideas can be a challenge. It's tempting to fall into the trap of using packaged, ready-made options. Although these seem like the easy answer, they tend to be high in fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar.


Avoid that mid-afternoon slump by packing foods that help to balance blood sugar. The B group of vitamins and chromium are important for this, so include wholegrains and lean meats as well as tomatoes, potatoes and onions. Combining protein and fibre with carbs will also help to get you through the afternoon.

Aim to...

  • Fill up on fibre by adding grains such as barley or pulses (including lentils) to soups or salads - both help manage cholesterol levels.
  • Vary the bread you use by opting for granary, rye, pumpernickel or seeded varieties of wraps, rolls, bagels or pitta. Omit the butter or spread when using moist fillings in sandwiches to help keep fat and calories down.
  • Slash salt levels by using low-sodium stocks in soups and opt for rice, pasta or potato salads in place of sandwiches at least 2-3 days a week. If you love sandwiches, choose lower-salt fillings such as chicken or turkey salad.
  • Make the most of leftovers – these save time, money and can offer a healthier choice (eg cold, sliced frittata served with a green salad).
  • Be good to your heart and include oily fish once a week – choose from sardines, salmon, trout or mackerel.
  • Choose a healthy snack to get you through the day – a handful (30g) of unsalted nuts or seeds are full of stress-busting nutrients.

Spicy seed mix in a bowl


  • Sweets, chocolate and biscuits – use fruit or dairy options to satisfy that ‘sweet’ need.
  • Too much tea and coffee – opt instead for water, 100% unsweetened fruit juice, milk, a yogurt smoothie, green or herbal teas.

Recipe suggestions:

Moroccan chickpea soup
Chicken gumbo
Scandi salmon salad
Spiced lentil & butternut squash soup
Wholemeal wraps with minty pea hummus & beetroot
Scandi beetroot & salmon pasta
Curried mango & chickpea pot
Quick chicken hummus bowl
Sweet potato & lentil cauliflower bowl

Now find healthy lunch ideas for teenagers and kids.

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This article was updated on 24 June 2019 by Kerry Torrens.

A qualified nutritionist (MBANT), Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).


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