School’s well and truly back and those lunch boxes need to be filled! As parents and carers of little ones, we all want to send the kids to school with a lunch box that contains food that is nutritious, tasty, and will come home eaten – after all, what they consume at school will be around a third of what they eat for the day.
So, while you may be craving the return of routine, you’re not alone if putting together your child’s lunch (let alone their school bag) brings on a daily dose of stress.
To simplify things – here is my 5-step approach for a winning school lunch.
The Main Lunch
A sandwich or wrap is a simple fall back option and an Aussie lunch box classic! It’s preferable to use wholegrain bread to provide a slow release of energy to fuel active minds and bodies - but if your child wont have a bar of it, try making a sandwich using one slice wholegrain and one slice low GI white bread or wholemeal (try it - it may just work!). While a little margarine is okay, have a go at using a little hummus or avocado as a spread and then add in a protein rich filling (e.g. sliced meat, cheese, egg or baked beans) to help keep tummies full and support healthy growth. Thumbs up to adding in some grated carrot or shredded lettuce, but no stress if this doesn’t work as you can always top up their veggies with a snack or at dinner.
Moving on from the sandwich, leftovers work a treat, as do these do these tasty ideas - (don’t forget to pack a little spoon or fork).
1. SALAD BOX - Handful of leftover pasta spirals + shredded BBQ chicken (store bought is fine) + halved cherry tomatoes + handful of frozen peas (they’ll defrost by lunch)
2. MEATBALLS – Homemade meatballs + small tub of hummus for dipping + carrot sticks and whole snow peas
3. HOMEMADE PIZZA – Toasted wholegrain English muffin topped with low salt tomato paste + lean ham + sliced capsicum + pineapple + shredded cheese
4. MINI FRITTATA – Mix up a bunch of eggs, diced capsicum, mushroom, tomato and shredded cheese. Cook in a muffin tray lined with paper muffin cups
A piece of fruit is an easy lunch box addition, so if your child is happy with a whole fruit such as an apple – go for it! If that apple is bound to come home bruised and uneaten, try slicing it and popping it into a zip lock bag (made extra yummy with some sliced cheese). Small plastic tubs can be used to hold grapes, berries, dried and diced fruit, and keep an eye out for banana holders, which will help avoid the dreaded squishy bag mess at the days end. Easy peel fruits like a mandarin are great and if you’re out of fresh fruit, its okay to go for a fruit cup in natural juice (not syrup).
Supermarket shelves seem to be groaning under the weight of endless (processed) school snacks and while homemade muffins, granola bars and wholemeal pikelets are top options, the truth is we’re often time strapped and sometimes it’s just easier to buy something ready-to-go.
Healthy choices include, air-popped corn, wholegrain crisp breads or crackers with a spread and if you’re buying a muesli bar opt for one that contains wholegrains, a natural list of ingredients and is low in added sugar. For younger kids, keep an eye out for smaller kid sized bars.
Calcium is essential for growing bodies and one the easiest ways to top up their intake is to include a serve of dairy (or dairy alternative) into their lunch box. Easy choices are mini cheeses, squeezy yoghurts and milk tetras. You could even spoon a few tablespoons of yoghurt into a small tub and top it off with a sprinkle of frozen berries. During warmer weather try freezing dairy foods and place these in the centre of lunchbox. A little freezer bag with a small ice block will also help maintain a cool temperature.
Sending kids to school with water is the best choice! Cordials, fruit juices and soft drinks are high in sugar and not recommended as a daily drink option. Opt for a BPA free water bottle and during warmer weather try freezing the water bottle the night before. And remember, if all of the kids are drinking water – no one thinks anything of it.