For most mums and dads, prepping school lunches is a chore we’d rather do without. It’s even less fun when lunchboxes keep coming home with only half their contents eaten! Whether you’re dealing with picky eaters, little ones who’d rather rush out to play than sit down to lunch, or kids who are simply bored with the same old thing every day – you’ll find that changing things up a bit will make a huge difference in what gets eaten.
Nutrition. Kids eat with their eyes, so I tend to focus on colour rather than nutrition. Most of the ‘bad’ stuff is pale or brown, so if you’re packing a lunchbox full of colour, that usually means lots of nutrients. A good basic structure to follow is one serve of carbs for energy (e.g., sandwich, wrap, rice), two serves of protein to keep tummies full (meat or egg in a sandwich, cheese, yoghurt etc.), then fill the rest of the box with fruit and veges.
Quick and stress-free prep. A little forward planning goes a long way. When you’re at the supermarket, grab a few healthy things you know will be quick and easy to throw in a lunchbox with no prep needed – mandarins, cherry tomatoes, cheese, grapes, rice crackers, popcorn etc. And cook up a little extra at dinner time if your kids will eat left-overs in their lunchbox – pasta, a sausage, a chicken drumstick, meatballs, or salad are all great additions.
If you’re into baking, make a big batch of muffins or bliss balls and store them in the freezer. Just pack them in the lunchbox frozen – they will keep the box nice and cool and will have thawed by lunchtime. Likewise, if you’re whizzing up some smoothies, make a little extra and store them in reusable food pouches in the freezer, all ready for grabbing in the morning rush and packing next to the lunchbox.
I also like to hard-boil a batch of eggs on a Sunday (you can do this while cooking dinner, so it doesn’t take any extra time!). That way, you have a nice, easy source of protein to pop in lunchboxes throughout the week.
Vary the carbs. A square sandwich can be so boring! Try mixing it up some days by replacing the sandwich with a bun, fruit loaf, wraps, sushi, pita bread (a great base for mini pizzas), pasta, savoury muffin, or even a cold toasted sandwich. And even if you are sticking with a plain old sandwich, try thinking outside the square to fancy it up a bit! Cut out ‘peep holes’ with a cookie cutter so you can see a bit of the filling, use fun shaped sandwich or cookie cutters, or thread the sandwich components onto a skewer! You could even make ‘sushi’ sandwiches by trimming the crusts from bread, adding your filling, then rolling them up and stacking them in the lunchbox.
Ditch the packaging. Get rid of the ugly plastic wrap and let the food shine! A sectioned bento box is ideal for this as you can pop different food into all the little compartments without the need for any packaging and everything stays in its place. Mini containers and silicone baking cups are great for creating divisions in a larger lunchbox. Reusable beeswax sandwich wraps add some fun colour too while eliminating the need for plastic wrap.
Cut up the fruit. A whole apple or orange can be quite intimidating for young children! Try cutting fruit and veges into smaller pieces to make them much more appealing and easier to eat, and instead of a large serving of one type of fruit, try offering smaller tastes of two or three different ones. You could even try upping the fun factor by including a dip (e.g., yoghurt for fruit, hummus for vege sticks). [To stop an apple from browning, drop the slices into a bowl of water with a big squirt of lemon juice in it. After 20 seconds, dry the slices off on a paper towel and they’ll be good to go.]
Add an element of fun. You don’t need to go overboard and take a lot of time over this, but the kids will love it! Just pick one thing a couple times a week – it could be a round sandwich instead of a square one, a cute little fork or food pick to eat with, carrots sliced into circles if you usually cut them into sticks, or berries threaded onto a skewer…actually anything on a stick always goes down well!
It’s actually quite fun to get creative with lunches and, who knows, it might even encourage the kids into the kitchen to make their own lunch!
For more lunchbox tips and recipes, visit www.thelunchboxqueen.co.nz