Today, I thought I’d share with you how I plan and pack my kids school lunches and some of the ways I put together healthy, interesting creations, quickly and easily. Plus I’ve included some troubleshooting for fusspots!
Variety is the spice of life!
My kids get really bored if I feed them the same thing over and over again. I made this mistake with my toasted muesli. It was served up too many times when they were little and now they complain when I serve it up at breakfast time.
Variety in their lunchbox not only keeps them interested, it also ensures they are deriving as many different nutrients, from as many different sources as possible. Feeding them the same things over and over really limits their potential to be truly nourished. Just remember – anything goes, don’t be constrained by fruit and a plain sandwich, hopefully this post will inspire you with more ideas.
A well-designed lunch box helps…
A lunch box that can be easily opened is a must. Also, one with lots of compartments so you can pack lots of ‘nude food’ and they can see what’s on offer in one spot is handy. When my kids were little I had their lunch in two separate boxes, mainly because I wanted them to eat the fruit and certain veges first (before they went sloppy). Now they are old enough to know what’s best to eat first so they pick and choose the order themselves. I think it’s nice for them to have control over what order they eat from their lunch box, but pick what suits your kids best.
Ice bricks and an insulated bag are essential for keeping their food fresh and safe. The hotter it is the more ice bricks you will need to pack. There is no reason to compromise on nourishment just because the weather is hot!
Make it easy on yourself
Forget making special fancy meals specifically for the lunch box and try to work with leftovers reinvented. This is why I share my kids lunches on social media (Instagram and Facebook group), as I’m pretty efficient at creating something new from a past meal. It’s why I also add in tips for lunches/ leftovers at the end of many of my recipes. I just don’t have time to spend more than 5-10 minutes on school lunches daily.
Sometimes, this may involve a little forethought…
I often spare a thought for school lunches when preparing my evening meal. For example…
- Roast dinners – If I’m cooking a roast dinner, I’ll add in extra protein like a few drumsticks as well as the whole chook. Or I’ll cook a ‘large’ side of meat or chicken so there will be leftovers (though sometimes this involves fending off my husband from seconds)! Even if I’m just baking some veggies for dinner, I’ll cook extra for the lunchbox (my kids love roast veg cold) and I’ll often throw an extra piece of meat on the tray for the lunch box. Add the meat to a sandwich as this is so much better than relying on processed, nitrate laden deli meats. You could also fill fresh spring rolls, sushi rolls, add a drumstick or wing into the box or add shredded or chopped meat to a salad, grain or noodles. Cooked meat can also be frozen (in portions) to use when required.
- Same with casseroles and curries – throw in more protein than what you need for dinner, fish it out of the sauce and use it as above. For example curried chicken pieces are delicious in a sandwich, wrap or spring roll. I also pack my kids curry and rice for lunch – either cold or warmed up in a thermos in winter.
- Whilst steaming vegetables for dinner, throw a few eggs in the water to boil for school lunches the next day. My kids love curried egg sandwiches or just boiled egg and salad, although the smell can be a little off putting. Character building I say!!
- I make a batch of meatballs for dinner, some of which I roll into bite sized balls and bake or grill for lunch. Also as a sandwich/wrap or rice paper roll filler, or with salad. These are a hit with many kids.
- If cooking rice, quinoa or noodles, cook a little extra and mix through tuna and grated veggies for lunch the next day.
- A good backstop is egg, tuna or salmon – I usually mix with homemade mayo, quark, labne or natural yoghurt to bind them for a sandwich filling.
- Also, if I’m cooking a frittata, quiche or omelette, I’ll make an extra large one or double up for the next day’s lunch box. It can also be frozen.
Nutritionally balanced box
So how do you make it nutritionally balanced? My key rules are:
1. A little fruit – two small serves (maximum).
2. Always include protein – this is what fills them up and provides them with the fuel they need to be able to concentrate and focus (and run and play). Most lunch boxes are lacking here. For more about the importance of protein and how to get it, click here.
3. Add some vegetables/salad. I understand that whilst my kids are very accepting of vegetables, but not all kids are. If there are any veggies they like, please include them. If this is a sticking point, then do your best and please never give up (especially during your evening meal when you can encourage them to try new foods). I always say you’d never give up on teaching your kids to read or write, yet when it comes to the food that nourishes them, many parents are willing to compromise. I’ve already written extensively on developing healthy eating habits in kids and will continue to do so (catch up here on past posts). I have worked with many fussy children in my many years of clinical practice, none of which were hopeless cases! Persistence and lots of encouragement, please.
4. Don’t buy anything but ‘real’ bread. I’ve written about how to choose a nourishing bread that won’t be detrimental to your kids heath here. Many types of breads are just awful so it’s worth picking a good one if you plan to include sandwiches.
5. Only include low sugar, whole food treats. I have lots of recipes on my site for wholesome snacks. You can check them out here. I makeup batches and freeze in airtight containers. I pack them frozen and they are ready to eat come morning tea.
Other ideas include:
- Full fat natural or greek yogurt, berries, seeds. Why not a flavoured yoghurt? Read this post here.
- My fruit whip – freeze in little containers and don’t forget to pack a spoon.
- Cheese and crackers or try my amazingly delicious seeded cheese crackers.
- This no bake muesli slice is so quick and easy to make. Cut and freeze in portions, perfect alternative to nutritionally void store bought muesli bars. Why it’s best to avoid shop bought bars here.
- Homemade popcorn (though I admit I have some little bags of organic popcorn as backup)
- This Fruity Muesli Slice recipe has been so popular.
- Or this Caramel Chocolate Muesli Slice is the bomb.
- This old fashioned style Chocolate Coconut Slice is well loved too.
- If your kids love brownies, this one includes a serve of veggies.
- Savoury muffins are great too… try these Bacon Corn Rosemary Muffins or these Cinnamon Roasted Sweet Potato, Thyme Feta Muffins.
- If your kids love Tiny Teddies, try this healthier version.
Some kids at school are just too busy to sit and eat a fiddly meal. If this is the case, firstly make sure the book ends of their daily nourishment, that is breakfast and the afternoon snack, are good wholesome meals. Then pack an appropriate lunch. Ask them what they find quick and easy to eat and pack that.
A note about nuts…
I know most schools have a ‘nut free’ policy. That’s why I always use breakfast or after school as a time to include nuts or a nut based treat (provided your children are not allergic of course). My ebook the Well Nourished Lunchbox is bible of all things lunchbox and only contains 100% nut-free recipes.