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Fact File - Healthy Packed Lunches

Packed lunches can be just as nutritious and tasty as a hot meal, if your packed lunch is going to be one of your main meals, base it on the four main food groups for it to be as balanced as possible.


The Four main groups – Building your Packed Lunch

Fruit and Vegetables

Base your packed lunch on this food group which includes vegetables, salads and fruit. Pulses (beans, lentils and peas) although it is not in the fruit and vegetable group, it can also count as one of your 5-A-DAY.
Aim for a variety of colours because this will enhance your ability to eat all the vitamins and phytochemicals that your body needs for health.

  •  Start with a bed of mixed salad leaves or vegetables, some can be raw or cooked to enhance the texture.
  • Aim for this food group to be the largest (at least five portions a day) and the most colourful portion on your plate.
  • Include fruit as a refreshing dessert and one of your colours, alternatively you can keep aside for a snack later.


Starchy Foods

Starchy foods are great for providing energy so include some of this group along with vegetables and fruit.
Whole grain versions tend to be more packed with iron, B vitamins and fibre than the refined versions so aim for these. They also keep you fuller for longer throughout the day.

  • Whole grains include grains such as, rye, oats, quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat and spelt.
  • If you choose potatoes, keep the skins on for added fibre and other nutrients.



Meat, fish, pulses, nuts, seeds, eggs and alternatives

These foods are rich in protein, iron and other minerals and vitamins.
Remember that pulses can count as one of your 5-A-DAY and they are also high in fibre which can help make you feel fuller for longer.

  • If you choose meat, eat lean varieties and make this the smallest portion of your meal.
  • Most fish can be eaten hot or cold, aim for two or more portions a week, one at least that is oily, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, fresh tuna and herring.
  • Plain, mixed nuts and seeds are a great addition for sprinkling on dishes for flavour and texture or as small snack for later.


Milk, dairy and alternatives

These foods are rich in calcium and protein which is needed for bone health.

  • Choose low-fat varieties and if you are unable to tolerate dairy foods, choose alternatives that are enriched with calcium and vitamin D.
  • Plain yoghurt can be used as a base for dips, mixed in dishes or as a dessert.
  • Aim for about two portions of this food group a day, such as a small pot of yoghurt or a matchbox size of low-fat cheese.


Some Ideas and Tips

Having looked at the main food groups, here are some ideas and tips to help you build your healthy packed lunch.

  1. Try a whole grain bread, such as rye bread and fit as much salad in as you can. Add a protein rich food such as a chopped egg, fish, hummus or lean meat.
  2. Cover a plate with mixed salad and/or vegetables of different colours. Perhaps cook more vegetables at last night’s dinner as these can be used. Add a whole grain food, such as two tablespoons of cooked brown rice or quinoa and a protein rich food, such as cooked chickpeas/beans or slices of cooked chicken or tuna.
  3. Mixed vegetable soups are great winter meals, add grains, such as buckwheat and pulses (lentils, beans) for a balanced lunch. Some soups are also delicious eaten cold such as courgette with mint and natural yoghurt.
  4. Prepare your own dressings, for example, plain yoghurt with mint and chopped cucumber or vinegar mixed with mustard, honey and olive oil.
  5. Your healthy last night’s dinner can be put in a tupawear for your packed lunch the following day.
  6. Chop some raw vegetables such as carrots and peppers, these are great to crunch on or for a snack later.
  7. Pack a  couple of oatcake biscuits, small plain yoghurt, fresh fruit and a tablespoon of mixed, plain nuts and dried fruit for a dessert or as a snack later to help avoid unhealthy temptations.



Drinking enough is essential to keep yourself healthy and hydrated during the day. Aim for 8-10 glasses a day (1.6 litre for women and 2 litres for men), more if you are active or if the environment you are in is hot. Avoid sugary drinks and aim not to rely on caffeinated drinks to keep you alert. Water, whether sparkling or plain is the best. If you need to flavour to help you drink water, add, for example, a twist of lemon, lime or crushed mint or try herbal/fruit teas as an alternative to caffeinated hot drinks.


Remember to plan ahead and keep your packed lunch in a suitable container depending whether your lunch is eaten hot or cold, it should be stored at a safe temperature.


This factsheet is intended for adults as a general guide only and not a substitute for professional advice or a diagnosis. If you are on certain medication or suffer from a medical condition, seek individual advice from your health care professional. Date produced August 2015. Date edited April 2016.

To help energise, engage and motivate staff our Power Up & Motivate With Positive Nutrition Workplace Wellbeing Initiatives can be helpful.  To find out more call Anna Mason on 07778 218009 for an obligation free conversation.

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