Lunch boxes! Oh I know, they can be a bore! It’s easy to just throw some junk in there, anything your child will eat without complaining. But during term time, lunch box meals take up quite a chunk of your child’s overall food intake, so it’s best if they have healthy ones. And with some planning and creative shopping, you can put a balanced couple of snacks together.
Every child is different. Some kids will sit down and eat everything in one go, others tend to graze. By the time he starts school, you will know your child’s eating style and can produce a yummy lunchbox to suit him perfectly. (Though naturally, if you’ve got more than one child, they will like completely different things in their lunchbox. This is one of the sad facts of a parent’s life.)
In my … let me see … over NINE YEARS of packing lunchboxes, oh my goodness! I have pretty much become an expert. I know that sandwiches made the night before can become dry and yucky, but salads made the night before are fine. I know that sliced tomatoes in a sandwich get all soggy. I’ve learned that in hot weather, a frozen juice pack keeps everything cool and defrosts at exactly the right time for lunch in a lunchbox. And, I can pack a good one, fast.
Here are my family’s fave packed lunches:
*Sandwiches are still the hands-down, most convenient, most liked lunchbox food. Crusts on, crusts off, whole wheat, wrapped in a tortilla, stuffed in a pita, and a million different ingredients make these my personal saviours in the morning rush. Be sure that your sandwich contains some kind of protein, such as cheese or meat, or peanut butter if your school allows. Protein will keep a child going through the long afternoon, while carbohydrates on their own will fuel a crash-and-burn. I often use deli meats, which are high in unhealthy ingredients, but my youngest son Max loves them and his diet is generally healthy otherwise so I’ve decided it’s okay. If I roast a whole chicken, Max loves chicken sandwiches with mayonnaise and he’ll eat that for three days straight. Roast beef, which I cook in the slow-cooker, is also really popular in a cold sandwich the next day.
*Dips! Max loves the tiny packets of cream cheese, which turn a boring and not-very-nutritious pack of multigrain crisps into a treat. Many kids who shun vegetables will happily eat carrot sticks and cucumber with dip. You can make a simple nut-free hummus, using a blender and a can of chick peas with olive oil and added seasoning: a very healthy vegetarian alternative.
*Soup is a wonderfully warming treat when the weather gets colder. In a thermos, soup will stay hot all day. Again, blending the ingredients up will make a popular creamy feast. Use orange vegetables and yellow split peas to make a bright orange blended soup that will convince your kids that veggies are fun!
*Fruit is so convenient, and many kids love it. An apple, orange or container of grapes (or cherry tomatoes!) will fit easily into a lunchbox and there’s one of your important five-a-day!
*A handy snack: some schools allow kids to run outside at playtime with a snack in their hand. If your child is a grazer, make sure he’s got something that he can grab and go with. Easily eaten fruits like bananas are great, and cheeses such as string cheese. Your child will be more interested in playing than eating at this point, so it’s got to be quick and easy.
*One of my older kids loves hard-boiled eggs. I packed them with shells intact and he would peel them and eat them with gusto, sprinkling a pinch of salt from a tiny container. Now that he is out of primary school and he buys his lunch, he still likes to put a few hot hard-boiled eggs into his pockets, to warm his hands on the way to school on wintry mornings! Then he can eat them before class.
*Many kids love salads: ranging from the leafy variety to a simple pasta or potato mayo with tuna and sweetcorn, these can be made the night before and popped in the next morning. Don’t forget a spoon!
*Juice and/or water is vitally important. Even in cold weather, kids can be dehydrated by the end of the day. There may be water fountains at school, but if there’s a line many kids will not bother to drink there.
Some kids like to have the same things every day… others prefer variety. If you have been packing the same popular lunch for a while and suddenly it’s coming home uneaten, try changing things a little. And, while you are packing a healthy snack for your kids, why not make one for yourself too? If you’re working, you can take it with you, and if you’re at home you’ll have a healthy, quick and easy lunch ready to munch. Your kids will be thrilled that their snack is good enough for you… and, you’ll be setting a good, healthy-eating example. Win-win!
I bet you’ve got ideas too! Share what works for you in the ‘Comments’ section… we’re always happy for snack inspiration here!
by Nan Sheppard
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Photo graciously provided by aJ GAZMEN ツ GucciBeaR, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved