Trying to avoid ham in lunchboxes? Try these healthy alternatives

With parents on alert after the WHO warning on eating processed meats, the mornings are suddenly more complicated. What do we put in children's lunchboxes? Domini Kemp suggests some nutritious and delicious alternatives

Packed lunches are a staple for nine months of the year. Whatever you pack, it’s judged – by the media, experts, other kids, teachers, parents, and, most importantly, your child. Now, with the World Health Organisation warning about the risks associated with processed meats, it's suddenly become even harder to pack a lunchbox. So, what’s to be done?

First of all, schools like to remind parents that the bulk of calories and meals are eaten at home, where you do have control.

I avoid processed carbs in the morning and evening for the children, but often give in at lunchtime, as I simply don’t have the time or energy to scrap each day wishing that they would eat roast beetroot and carrot sticks instead of sandwiches for lunch. But here are a few easy suggestions that do curry favour and keep us all on speaking terms.

If you can't be bothered to make it, there are some excellent store-bought ones available. A bit of leftover roast chicken and some pesto makes a delicious sandwich.

With all the nut allergies, it can be really confusing, and until recently I thought that the ban on nuts in schools meant no pesto, but according to allergen websites, most people with peanut or tree nut allergies are able to eat seeds.

Pine nuts – rather confusingly – are seeds rather than nuts. So, it looks like pesto could be okay even if nuts are banned in your school. But please do check this out with the school.


We are told by great initiatives such as Bord Bia’s Food Dudes that kids “love to dip!” So here goes: use the dipping sensation to try a little hummus or pesto with carrots and celery. If your kids find hummus too creepy as is, then try letting it down with a spoonful of crème fraiche or yoghurt, or even mayo to get them started.

Protein snacks

A little protein is a good thing, so cheese gets a thumbs up from me, and most kids seem to like it. Apples with nut butters are also great snacks (but then you could be in allergy territory again). Or even an apple and a slice of cheese makes a good snack.

Dried fruit is fab

Yes, it contains quite a lot of sugar, but it’s a great snack and perfect with a few seeds as a good breaktime snack. As long as they are not hoofing handfuls of the stuff, they should be fine to enjoy some dried fruit.

Homemade flapjacks

These always go down well and oats are a really good and nutritious carbohydrate, so we're all thumbs up about them. See my recipe for a healthy version here.


I would love to say that my kids love taking in a flask of delicious homemade soup every day, but I would be lying through my teeth. If you are lucky enough to have a kid that likes soup, lash it into them.


The current fad of making smoothies at home seems to excite little people. Again, if this is an option to pack in the good stuff, then do so. You can often sneak things such as courgette and spinach into smoothies, and making them with a bit of Greek yoghurt ensures a bit of protein gets into them.

Water down that juice

If you send a flask of juice in with them, do everyone a favour and water it down heavily.

Other than that, try not to lose your mind and your sense of perspective. All too often, we can fall into the trap of making food become a battleground. Go gently, as the mindful folks would say!

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