Lunchbox ideas: Tasty, healthy recipes that grown-ups will love too

These quick and simple lunchbox ideas are tasty and healthy: and there’s enough inspo here to pick and mix all year.

Toasted cheese and tomato pittas

lunchbox ideas toasted cheese and tomato pittas
Chris Alack

MAKES 4

4 tbsp tomato passata rustica
olive oil (see method)
sea salt and black pepper
2 x small seeded wholemeal pittas (for example The Food Doctor Seed & Cereal)
100g coarsely grated halloumi
about 6 tbsp sliced red peppers from a jar, with a little of their oil

1. Heat the oven to 240C/ 220C fan/gas 9. Combine the passata with 2 teaspoons of olive oil and some seasoning in a small bowl.

2. Slit the pittas evenly in half and place on a baking sheet. Spread the passata to just within the rim of the pitta halves. Scatter over the cheese and peppers and drizzle over a little oil. Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden, crusty at the edges and sizzling. Leave to cool before packing in a lunchbox.

  • FIVE A DAY: be sure to include fresh veg or salad and a serving of fruit. Sweet potato wedges (see below) also work well.

Chicken dippers

Chris Alack

MAKES 4-6 SERVINGS

400g chicken fillets
1 tsp ground cumin
4 tbsp lemon or lime juice
2 tbsp olive oil
sea salt
paprika

1. Trim the chicken fillets and cut into 1cm thick strips. Combine the cumin, lemon or lime juice and olive oil in a small bowl. Pour this over the chicken strips in a large bowl and stir to coat. Heat a large nonstick frying pan over a medium-high heat, lay the chicken slices out on a plate and season the top with salt and paprika. Sear the chicken strips in two batches, spacing them a little way apart, for a couple of minutes each side or until golden and cooked through. Transfer to a plate and leave to cool.

2. Pack your desired serving in a chilled lunchbox with your choice of sides and dip (see below).

  • BITE SIZE: cherry tomatoes and baby cucumbers have grab-and-go appeal. Wrap thin cheese slices around spoonfuls of coleslaw

Cheesy peasy cheat’s ‘pesto’

lunchbox ideas pesto pasta
Chris Alack

SERVES 4

SAUCE FOR 4

20g basil leaves
40g rocket leaves
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 garlic clove, peeled (optional)
2 tbsp lemon juice
60g freshly grated parmesan
175g quark
100g soured cream

PER SERVING

75g pasta shapes of your choice (or according to appetite)
30g-50g frozen peas
sea salt and black pepper
extra parmesan to serve

1. In a processor, whiz the basil and rocket with the lemon zest and garlic, if using, until finely chopped. Add the lemon juice and whiz again. Whiz in the parmesan, followed by the quark and soured cream, until combined. Chill and cover. This will keep for a couple of days. 

2. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions, adding the peas for the last 3-4 minutes. Drain the pasta and peas.

3. To serve hot, toss with the sauce and season. 

    • COOL LUNCHBOX OPTION: dress drained, cooled pasta with a drop of oil. Spoon some sauce into a lunch pot with the pasta on top. Toss together on eating, with extra parmesan.

Gnocchi with tomato sauce

SERVES 4

First make the sauce, which is enough for 4. Finely chop 4 sun-dried tomato halves. Peel and chop a garlic clove. Slice 50g pitted black or green olives. Prepare 2 heaped tbsp finely chopped flat leaf parsley. Heat 3 tbsp olive oil in a medium non-stick frying pan over a medium heat, add the garlic and sun-dried tomatoes and cook for a minute. Add 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes and an optional pinch of chilli flakes and simmer a low heat for 8-10 minutes or until glossy and thickened, stirring occasionally. Stir in the olives and parsley and cook for a minute longer. If making it in advance, leave to cool and then cover and chill for up to 3 days. Or the sauce can be frozen. When ready to serve, bring a pan of water to the boil, add 125g gnocchi per person, simmer for a couple of minutes after they have risen to the surface, then drain. Reheat your desired amount of sauce and stir in the drained gnocchi. For a lunchbox transfer to a small food flask and seal.

Easiest-ever oven falafels

lunchbox ideas oven falafels
Chris Alack

MAKES 20

Requested from our recipe files! Drain, rinse and pat dry 2 x 400g tins chickpeas; finely chop 2 shallots and 3 garlic cloves; prepare 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest. Add to a processor with 1 heaped tbsp flour, 25g each coriander leaves and flat-leaf parsley leaves, 2 tsp ground cumin, a pinch of chilli flakes and some seasoning. Shape mixture into 20 balls, arrange on parchment-lined baking sheets, brush lightly with olive oil and roast for 30-35 minutes at 200C/180Cfan/gas 6, turning halfway, or until golden and cooked through. Serve hot or cold with your choice of accompaniments or to fill a wrap.

lunchbox ideas granola bites
Chris Alack

Fruity granola bites

MAKES 20

In a food processor, whiz 100g sunflower seeds for several minutes to a very fine meal. Add 50g pitted medjool dates and 1 level tsp finely grated orange zest and continue to process until finely chopped. Add 30g coconut oil and whiz to a sticky paste. Add 100g nut-free granola (for example Jordans Country Crisp with Raspberries) and continue to whiz to a fine crumble, then add up to 25ml orange juice to achieve a firm sticky dough. Roll heaped teaspoons of the mixture into balls slightly smaller than a walnut (about 15g each). Roll lightly in chopped freeze-fried raspberry pieces. Cover and chill to set. These keep well for up to a week and can be eaten chilled or at room temperature.

Mini fruit loaves

MAKES 6

Heat the oven to 210C/190Cfan/gas 6 1/2. Have ready 6 individual mini loaf moulds about 5.5cm x 10cm. In a food processor, cream together 75g diced unsalted butter and 75g golden caster sugar. Whiz in 2 medium eggs and 2 tbsp milk. Sift together and add 150g plain spelt flour, 2 tsp baking powder and 3/4 tsp mixed spice. Process to combine then transfer the mixture to a large bowl and fold in 175g chopped mixed dried fruit. Half-fill the moulds with the mixture, mounding it along the centre, and bake for 30 minutes or until risen and firm. Leave to cool. These will keep well for several days stored in an airtight container. Note that each mini loaf serves 2-3, according to appetite. 

Cheese oatcake triangles

MAKES ABOUT 14

Heat the oven to 160C/140Cfan/gas 2 1/2. In a food processor, whiz 90g whole rolled oats, 60g wholemeal spelt flour, 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 1/4 tsp fine sea salt and 40g finely grated parmesan to a fine meal. Add 2 tbsp rapeseed oil and whiz again, then add just enough boiling water (3-5 tbsp) to bring the dough together. Lay out a large sheet of clingfilm on the work surface, place the dough in the centre and lay another sheet on top. Flatten the dough, then roll it to 2mm-3mm thick using a rolling pin. Peel off the top sheet of clingfilm, cut the dough into 6cm-8cm squares and halve these into triangles. Carefully lift on to a nonstick baking sheet and scatter over 20g finely grated parmesan. Bake for 30-35 minutes until crisp and the cheese is golden. Leave to cool before storing in an airtight container. The oatcakes will keep well for at least a week.

Omelette roll-ups

lunchbox ideas omelette wraps
Chris Alack

MAKES 4

5 medium eggs
about 1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp water
black pepper

1. Whisk all the ingredients together in a medium bowl (no need for salt). Fry the mixture a quarter at a time in a 24cm nonstick frying pan over a medium heat as though making pancakes: drizzle about half a teaspoon of oil over the base of the hot pan for the first one, and cook each omelette for about 1 minute or until dry on the surface and golden beneath, then loosen them using a spatula, turn and cook for a further 30-45 seconds. Stack them on a plate and leave to cool. Use in place of cereal wraps with your favourite fillings. They can be assembled the night before.

  • TRY THIS: spread the wraps thinly with light cream cheese (or use spreadable goat’s cheese) and layer over wafer-thin ham. Top with a couple of basil leaves and cucumber batons, plus a sprinkle of chopped spring onion, if wished. Roll them up, anchoring them with an extra teaspoon of cheese if needed. Loosely cover with clingfilm and chill. For the lunchbox, either pack them whole for eating like a tortilla wrap, or slice into 2cm-3cm rounds.
  • ADD: sweet and savoury crunch with banana chips, mini breadsticks and mini Marmite rice cakes

Instant wrap inspo

  • Be colourful. Fill Genius Gluten-Free Fibre Fest Beetroot Wraps with the falafel (above), mashed avocado (or a dollop of dip), salad leaves and spirals of carrot. Pop in extra crudités where you can. 
  • Mini packs of raisins and light cream cheese triangles tuck in neatly
  • Ideally choose wholegrain wraps, flatbreads and sandwich loaves where possible.
  • Aim for plain styles of popcorn, rather than sugary – 10g bags are widely available
Chris Alack

Chunky sweet potato wedges

MAKES ABOUT 600G

Heat the oven to 220C/200Cfan/gas 7 and line the base of a couple of large roasting dishes with baking paper. Trim the ends of 600g sweet potatoes. Finely grate the zest of a lemon. Peel 2 garlic cloves and crush to a paste. If the potatoes are large, halve them across before cutting into chunky 2cm-3cm wedges. Toss these in a bowl with 3 tbsp olive oil, the lemon zest, garlic and some seasoning. Spread the wedges out in the dishes without them touching. Roast for 40-45 minutes until dark at the edges and blistering; there is no need to turn them. Allow to cool. Add a few to lunchboxes alongside crudités, with a dip and a scattering of parsley, if wished.

Spicy salmon chunks

MAKES 4-6 SERVINGS

200g breadcrumbs made from wholemeal bread
2 tsp each turmeric and paprika
1 tbsp olive oil
400g trimmed skinless salmon
2 medium eggs, beaten
your favourite healthy dip to serve

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180Cfan/gas 6 and line a baking tray with parchment. Combine the breadcrumbs with the spices and olive oil until well mixed, spread them out on the baking tray and place in the oven for 15 minutes to crisp, turning occasionally. Remove to a large bowl. 

2. Cut the salmon into 2cm cubes. Dip these one by one into the egg, followed by the breadcrumbs until evenly coated and arrange on the lined baking tray. Bake for 6-8 minutes until cooked and crisped. These may be eaten hot as part of supper or left to cool and served cold in a lunchbox the next day.

  • DIPS: below or swap for a pot of healthy ketchup  
lunchbox ideas dips
Chris Alack

Fresh and herby ricotta


MAKES ABOUT 300G

Place 50g mixed mint and basil leaves in a processor with 3 slim spring onions (trimmed and chopped), 1 peeled garlic clove, 2 tbsp olive oil and a little salt. Whiz to a paste. Drain and add 250g ricotta and whiz again, and finally whiz in 1 tbsp lemon juice. Cover and chill. Great with leftover roast veggies or raw veg dippers. 

Cheesy pepper dip

MAKES ABOUT 300G

Chop 3 roasted red peppers from a jar (seeds removed if present). Place in a processor with 150g young goat’s cheese and 75g low-fat fromage frais. Whiz until smooth, then add a squeeze of lemon juice and some salt and pepper to taste. If wished, finish with a topping of chopped herbs and cayenne pepper.

Avocado hummus

MAKES ABOUT 350G

Drain and rinse 1 x 400g tin chickpeas and place in a processor with 2 tbsp lemon or lime juice, 1 tbsp olive oil and a little salt. Add a pinch of cumin if wished. Whiz until very finely chopped, then slowly add 50ml water and whiz to a purée. Add the flesh of 1 avocado and whiz until completely smooth. Add an optional dusting of paprika to serve. For a white dip you could swap the chickpeas for cannellini beans. 

Sandwiches plus

lunchbox ideas sandwiches
Chris Alack

Swap in different breads for variety. Some ideas: mini wholemeal rolls with cream cheese, hard-boiled egg and cress. Seeded bagel with avocado, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella pearls, a dollop of nut-free pesto and a few basil leaves. Corn folded flatbread with chicken tikka breast slices, mango chutney, a small handful of spinach leaves and chopped mint. Wholemeal bread with crunchy lettuce, a slice of thin ham (trim the fat), grated cheddar and a dollop of pickle. Soft brown sandwich thins with hummus, sliced carrot, a sprinkle of rocket and a scattering of lentil sprout mix. Aim to include salad elements in your sandwiches – these count towards your five a day.

Toasted seed mix

lunchbox ideas toasted seeds
Chris Alack

MAKES 200G (8 x 25G SERVINGS)

Heat the oven to 150C/130C fan/gas 2. Brush the base of a large roasting pan with 1 tsp rapeseed oil. In a medium bowl, combine 100g pumpkin seeds, 60g sunflower seeds and 40g flax seeds. Spread in a thin layer in the tin and toast in the oven for 20 minutes. In a small bowl combine 2 tsp dark soy sauce, 2 tsp maple syrup and 2 tsp lemon juice (you can spice it up with an optional pinch of cayenne). Drizzle this mixture over the seeds, stir to coat and continue roasting for another 20 minutes, stirring halfway through. Loosen with a spatula and leave to cool. Transfer to an airtight container. The mix will keep well for several weeks. Add portions to lunchboxes in place of crisps, or sprinkle over salads and soups.

Lunchbox wisdom

Visit nhs.uk/change4life for advice on how to achieve a balanced lunchbox. Elements will naturally vary according to age, appetite and school guidelines. Our lunchbox special offers ideas and tips for you to swap and add in, as you wish.

Recipes by Annie Bell and YOU food team. Food styling by Clare Lewis. Styling by Sue Radcliffe. Contributors: Victoria Woodhall, Clare Lewis