Arghh, I need to prepare the packed lunches!


Got children at school who don’t eat school dinners?

Are you thinking, other than a sandwich, what on earth am I going to put in the box each day?

Then, I’ve got some ideas for you to test out to ease the stress and to increase the chances of the box coming home empty.

Let’s start with the box

The box itself can make the difference between an eaten and a rejected lunch. The bento style lunch boxes with little compartments and tiny pots for dips and things are brilliant.

Children often like to have their food separated so these boxes are just the ticket. You can make your own by putting little pots, boxes and muffin cases in a Tupperware.

Get ahead

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 a week. 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. You’ll also be able to spot where you can use leftovers for the packed lunch or cook extra of something to include.

It’s not just your responsibility

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!).

It’s also helpful to ask your children for ideas of what to put in their lunchbox and to get them involved in preparing some elements of their packed lunch.

Is it appealing?

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 to make a lunchbox more appealing without it taking a lot of 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.

Cut it back a bit

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.

Include a variety of foods

Aim to include a carbohydrate, a protein, a dairy item, vegetables/salad and fruit in every box. Limit crisps and sweet foods to just one item.

As for drinks, schools prefer children to have water in their lunchboxes. If they’re used to squash or fruit juice, try flavouring their water with citrus peel instead.

Avoid nuts as many schools and childcare settings don’t allow them. Many schools have a lunch box policy too that is useful to read.

There’s more to packed lunches than sandwiches!

Sandwiches are great for packed lunches but they’re not the only option. Add some variety with wraps and pittas, crackers and oatcakes, pasta or noodles, pizza or pastry pinwheels, sushi or scones, vegetable fritters or frittatas, savoury muffins or soups.

On the side, include plenty of colourful veggies, varying between raw and cooked where possible.

In a pot, include dips, sauces and dressings to liven up the lunch box. They might even make the difference between the food being eaten or ditched.

Fruit kebabs or a fruit salad made from a variety of frozen fruits, chopped up fruit, dried fruit or a fruit compote with natural yoghurt are perfect for afters.

A little 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.

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