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Amelia Freer: How to make healthy packed lunches

September 1st 2014 / Amelia Freer


Nutritional therapist Amelia Freer shows us how to make a healthy lunchbox perfect for children and grown ups alike

Let’s face it, healthy lunch options are limited for all unless we fine-dine in fancy restaurants or make our own. Despite the efforts of my hero Jamie Oliver, we know that many school lunches are still not nourishing our children’s health in the way they should. And the situation is no better for us adults - our franchised café society has numbed our options to sandwiches, bagels, wraps and pasta - all for convenience, never for health.

The only way to really ensure that your, or your children’s lunches are filled with love, rocking with power, clean and alive, is to make it and pack it yourself. I know, I know, we don’t have time, kids are fussy and transportation is tricky. We can all easily find hundreds of excuses to rely on convenience and fast foods – that’s why the industry is thriving. But ultimately it comes down to a choice – if you want to build, nourish, strengthen and fuel your body with integrity, then a little bit of change and a sprinkle of extra time is required.

As with any new habit, there is an adjustment period before it becomes part of your normal daily ritual. But if the intent is there in the first place, then it will soon become just another empowering way to care for you and yours. So let’s bin the smelly, dead sandwiches for our kids, and us; let’s shake things up a little and optimise our lunches.

Thinking outside the box (pun intended), we don’t need to limit our lunches to bread, pasta, muffins or crisps. Naturally I want to steer you away from gluten, dairy and refined sugar and for your foods to be alive, vibrant with colour and bursting with taste. But I also appreciate that this is harder for children’s lunchboxes (depending on their age and tastes) so just do your best, use the best quality ingredients you can, get in the colourful vegetables and fruits they’ll eat wherever you can and get them involved – same goes for you too.

Remember that gluten free products aren’t always the healthier option – read the labels and see what ingredients are being used in each product as many are loaded with sugar and chemicals. By far the easiest way for healthy lunch is to use left-overs or cook and prep for both at the same time. I try to fill my fridge on a Sunday with what I need for the next few days so that it takes less time to assemble when on the go. And kids can be kitchen helpers to halve the workload for you, as well as broadening their palates and kitchen confidence at the same time.

To create the ideal lunch box, aim to tick off the following:

  • One portion of protein (egg, chicken, tuna, nut butter, fish or pulses)
  • 3 or 4 different coloured vegetables (leaves, carrot, red & yellow pepper, corn)
  • One portion of fruit (an apple, a bowl of blueberries, a banana, kiwi chunks, a peach etc)
  • Liquid (filtered water, preferably in a stainless steel or BPA free bottle)
  • (For kids - if you need to add in bread or a bread substitute, a yoghurt or a sweet treat such as carrot cake then go ahead but we adults don’t need all these extras!)

Here are a few healthy lunch box ideas and alternatives that you can adapt for you or your children’s needs...

A healthy-er sandwich

A perfect switch for a sandwich, and something you can get the kids involved in making too, is rice paper rolls. They can be made in advance and store really well. Here is an option for kids and grown-ups alike:

1. Take 4 rice paper circles.

2. Lay a clean tea towel on a flat surface.

3. Get a large, not too deep bowl and fill it with warm water (from the kettle but cooled enough to be able to put your hands in it).

4. Place one rice paper sheet into the water for about 30 seconds then gently remove and lay on the tea towel.

5. Now lay your filling into the centre section of the round.

6. Fold in one side and start to wrap.

Filling ideas:

I like thin strips of poached chicken, thin sticks of mango, crunchy lettuce and strips of red pepper. I add in a few fresh coriander leaves but leave this out if your children don’t like it. Other options would be pesto, chicken, grated carrot, red pepper strips and lettuce or teriyaki salmon with rice noodles and thinly sliced carrot and pepper sticks, or tuna and sweetcorn with crunchy lettuce. For adults you can get a bit more sophisticated and try crab, apple and rocket or mango and prawn. Really anything goes - leftovers go great in rice wraps. For the kids versions, naturally use the foods they love and will eat.

Vegetable Frittata

A frittata is a great travel option and an easy way to pack in different vegetables. Try red onion, sweet potato and tomato. Or broccoli florets, red peppers and spring onion.

To make, simply chop and sauté the vegetables you wish to use in a pan with a little oil (coconut ideally). Then whisk 2 eggs per person and pour over the top of the vegetables (I like to add lots of herbs), give a little stir and leave to set on the bottom then pop inside the oven (make sure you don’t use a pan with a plastic handle) under the grill for 3 or 4 minutes to let the top set. Then cut into slices. Keeps in the fridge for 2-3 days and is great cold.

Salad in a jar

By far the easiest way to transport a salad and avoid annoying dribbles in your bag. Add a small pot of dressing at the top and it’s a super easy lunch (I make extra salad the night before so it’s a doddle to put the remainder into a jar for the next day). For kids, perhaps a plastic jar is best and cut the vegetables into easy chunks and mix with fruit.

Find out how to make salad in a jar here


Pasta no longer needs to be the empty, white stodgy stuff. You can use it as a great platform for getting healthier ingredients in. So opt for brown rice pasta spirals or tubes, noodles or spaghetti or if you haven’t yet jumped onto the spiralizer craze then buy a spiralizer and make vegetable ribbons out of courgette, carrot and butternut squash. Add pesto, chicken and sundried tomatoes; tuna and sweetcorn or a bolognaise sauce.

Bite Size Nuggets

Again this is something you can involve the kids in making. Go for chicken pieces, or blended chickpeas, turkey mince or fish – roll or cut into small bite size pieces, dip in a little whisked egg, roll in gluten free flour with a little salt & pepper (I use coconut or rice flours) or some breadcrumbs and seasoning of choice and bake in the oven until golden and crispy. Dip in some houmous to eat.

I hope this gets you all off to a great start this autumn and that you’ll pack your lunches with pride. Please share with me what other healthy lunches you create for you and/or your kids!

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