Derval O'Rourke: healthy lunchbox tips, and a handy Shepherd's Pie recipe

Derval O'Rourke: healthy lunchbox tips, and a handy Shepherd's Pie recipe

The smallies are back to school, some people are back to work, it’s time to talk lunchboxes and how to build a healthy one!

As it’s Agri-Month, I would also like to touch on the importance of trying to reduce our food waste. Food waste is incredibly unsustainable. 

If you can cut down on how much food you waste it will be great for the environment but also on your wallet. My aim before I do a food shop is to have very little food left in the kitchen — meaning that we’ve used it all up. 

Thinking a little bit more about the smallies’ lunch boxes will also help with food waste: can you use some of today’s dinner for tomorrow’s lunch? I’m sure you can!

I also try to source my food locally where possible. Of course, there are times this doesn’t happen but I’m conscious of it. I buy my meat from the butcher and my fish from the fishmonger whenever possible. 

Aiming to increase the amount of seasonal and locally-produced foods you eat can reduce the air miles the food has had to travel and can drastically reduce its carbon footprint. 

I always tell myself that doing a small bit when I can, will make a big difference. Now let’s talk lunch box specifics...

Lunch can be a hard meal to nail in terms of healthy lifestyle. Whether you are run ragged at home and barely have time to stop or whether you are in an office and trying to negotiate the best way to fuel your workday. 

The challenges can be plenty but the opportunity to prepare your lunch in advance is great.


Here are my top tips for nailing lunchboxes.

The key to a healthy lunchbox is about maximising your nutrition through balance and variety. Use the simple guide below to increase the variety in your lunchbox.


Protein is important for so much more than ‘gains’ in the gym and has a role to play in most biological processes in the body. I aim to have 1/4 of my lunch as protein. It supports our immune system and keeps our skin, hair, and nails in tip-top condition. 

One question I get asked a lot is how do I stay fuller for longer and keep hunger at bay? My answer to this would be to increase the protein content of your lunchbox. Aim to include a palm-sized portion which is around 20-30g to help with appetite control.

Lunch Protein Examples: a fillet of chicken, a fillet of salmon, two hard-boiled eggs or as a vegetarian/vegan option 200g or ½ block tofu.


These are an important source of energy and mid-week we need all the energy we can get! Consuming adequate carbohydrates can also benefit your fitness, sleep, and immune function. I generally aim for ¼ of my lunch to be filled with wholegrain carbohydrates.

Lunch Carbohydrate Examples: 4 tablespoons cooked pasta or rice, 2 slices of bread/1 wrap/1 wholemeal pitta, 3-4 rice cakes or oatcakes.


These are a brilliant source of vitamins and minerals to support immune function. This helps to prevent us from picking up coughs and colds at work. They are high in fibre which helps to keep our gut healthy, our blood-sugar levels balanced and our tummies feeling fuller for longer — which, on long mid-week days, is really great. I aim for 1/2 of my lunch to be vegetables.

Lunch Vegetable Examples: stir-fried vegetable portion, salad leaves, a bowl of vegetable soup or roasted vegetables portion.


These are a super idea to add at lunchtime. Healthy fats support immune function, absorption of vitamins

A, D, E & K and production of recovery hormones. I aim to add 1-2 tablespoons of good fats to my lunch.

Lunch Fats Examples: 2 tablespoons mashed avocado, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons nuts/seeds.


This is an area that is often missed when it comes to lunchbox prep but adequate fluid intake is important for cognitive function at work and school. 

Dehydration can lead to feelings of fatigue, headaches, dizziness, and lack of concentration. 

If you find plain water boring consider adding some no-added-sugar squash or slices of fruit in order to increase your fluid intake.


Simple Lunch Ideas:


Your lunchboxes don’t have to be Instagram-worthy, trust me. However, they should be delicious, filling, and bursting with nutrition. Here are some simple examples to get you started.

  • A pitta bread filled with spinach, grated carrot, falafel and hummus
  • A wrap filled with mashed avocado, 1 chicken fillet or prawns and rocket
  • Leftover pasta with some good quality pesto, peas, spinach, and chicken mixed through.
  • Leftover roast vegetables with 1 fillet of chicken/ vegetarian sausages, pre-cooked quinoa, hummus, and pumpkin seeds.
  • Leftover lasagne or shepherd’s pie with a side salad (see fab recipe below)
  • Cold leftover frittata and a mix of salads


Fitness Tip:


If it’s possible, why not walk your kid(s) to school some days — starting the day with a walk in the fresh air will ensure they’re alert when they arrive at school and will help them concentrate & probably have a good day. 

I love to have a little walk in the mornings, even if it’s just around my back garden for a couple of minutes.


Wellness Tip:


As it’s Agri Month, try to buy locally this month. 

Neighbourfood is a great resource for local food that’s in season. 

It’s a super-handy online platform that connects consumers to small/medium scale local producers. 

Check out their website or Instagram and give it a go.




Shepherd’s Pie

This recipe is the ultimate antidote to the cold months we’re starting to come into. 

I would recommend that you buy a potato ricer to help you make recipes like this one. 

I use a potato ricer whenever I’m making mashed potatoes. 

Since the mash is so smooth and soft, there’s no need to add any butter.

Prep Time: 20-25 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Serves: 2


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 450g lean minced beef
  • 200g tinned chopped tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered


1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt

3. Cook for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes

4. Add the mince and cook for about 10 minutes, until browned. Stir in the chopped tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, tomato purée, and bay leaves and bring to the boil

5. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, make the mash. Boil the potatoes in salted water for 10–15 minutes, until tender. Drain, season, and mash well.

6. Place the cooked mince in a large ovenproof dish and top with the mash. Bake for 20 minutes.

Divide the pie between warmed serving plates. Use any leftovers for the perfect lunch box filler.

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