I’m willing to bet that, for those with children, the meal which causes most stress each day is the kid’s packed lunch. Here are a few ideas to test out over the next few weeks.
The lunch box
Try and get one of the bento style lunch boxes with little compartments and tiny pots for dips and things. Children often like to have their food separated into individual components so these boxes are just the ticket.
Get your children involved
Children like to construct their own meals so provide the makings of whatever you have planned for lunch and let them put it together (or not!).
Can you ask your children for ideas of what to put in their lunchbox?
Will your children help prepare some elements of their packed lunch?
If it’s an option and especially in the early years when they’re free, discuss whether your child is willing to have school lunches a couple of times a week to ease the pressure on you. If they’re unwilling, regularly revisit the conversation.
Think about whether there are elements you can prepare the night before or batch prepare. Popcorn, for example, can be made in a big batch and stored in an airtight container for at least a few days. Muffins, cakes, flapjacks and cookies can be made in bulk and frozen in portions or slices.
Adding lunches into your weekly meal plan will help you think about ways to make this task easier.
There’s a lot to be said for novelty and making things look interesting. I’m not suggesting you make sandwiches into stars, teddies and other shapes but there are ways of adding interest without it taking extra time to prepare. A fruit kebab is more likely to get eaten than the same fruit in a pot or when left whole, and vegetables don’t always need to be chopped into sticks – think about using a peeler to make ribbons or using a crinkle cutter.
A balanced box
Aim to include a carbohydrate, a protein, a dairy item, vegetables/salad and fruit in every box. Avoid nuts as many schools and childcare settings don’t allow them and save crisps and sweet items for home – if they’re in the lunch box, children are going to be too tempted to eat them and eat less of the ‘good stuff’.
What to put in the lunch box
You don’t need to cram the lunch box to the brim. We tend to over cater for packed lunches and picnics so keep in mind how much your child can actually eat to reduce how much is brought back home.
The main event
Wraps, sandwiches, crackers, oatcakes, rice cakes, pittas, pasta, noodles, Chinese pancakes, pizza, pastry pinwheels or rice.
Can you use leftovers from dinner or cook extra of something you know the children will eat?
How about cucumber or avocado sushi, mini tortillas, vegetable fritters, pancakes, scones or a savoury muffin for a change? You can swap and change the veggies in these courgette, spinach and cheese ones to suit tastes and roll with the seasons.
And for older children, soup in a thermos flask might be an option over the winter months.
On the side
Include plenty of colourful veggies, vary between raw and cooked where possible, turn into a coleslaw, combine them with the main event or leave separate for your child to construct their own dish.
Fruit kebabs or a fruit salad made from a variety of frozen fruits, chopped up fruit, dried fruit, fruit compote with natural yoghurt are perfect for afters.
In a pot
Dips and sauces liven up the lunch box and might make the difference between the food being eaten or ditched. Houmous or other bean and veg dips, guacamole, sour cream, hoisin, BBQ or sweet chilli sauce and dressings.
A bit extra
Popcorn left plain or flavoured with cinnamon, smoked paprika or marmite is a good alternative to crisps, as are veg or fruit crisps or baked pitta chips. Sugar-free cakes, muffins, flapjacks and cookies generally sweetened with dried fruits, carrot or apple are great lunch box alternatives.
Schools and healthcare professionals prefer children to have water.