Sending your children off to school with a delicious packed lunch is one of the best things you can do to help them have a great day. Every new term we have great intentions to create delicious, perfectly balanced lunches, but all too often lack of time and ideas have us falling back on the same foods every day.
As a multi-tasking mum, it’s tempting to fill a couple of lunch box spaces with an easy treat that children love. But ready-made foods can be highly processed with high levels of salt, sugar and saturated fat. Not only is that bad for your children’s health, it’s also guaranteed to cause a mid-afternoon slump that’ll have them struggling to concentrate on their lessons.
Making your own lunch gives you the peace of mind that your children are eating the food they need to keep them healthy, full of energy and help them learn. And there are lots of homemade options that are quicker and easier to make than you’d think.
The perfect lunch box
The ideal lunch should include:
- A portion of protein - meat or fish are ideal but there are also healthy veggie alternatives such as pulses or egg.
- A serving of carbohydrate or starchy food - bread, pasta and potatoes provide slow-release energy to keep your children going all day.
- A portion of high-calcium food - good for strong bones and teeth. A great source is dairy, such as a yogurt, or for vegans try soya milk.
- 2 portions of fruit and veg - try to give your cihld at least two of your child’s five-a-day with fresh fruit and vegetables and diluted fruit juice.
Of course, most children will want a sweet treat. If you want to add a treat, offer homemade fruit muffins or flapjacks and always offer fruit alongside.
Many children enjoy routine and like to have the same lunch every day, from sandwich filling to piece of fruit, so it can be difficult to introduce variety. But it’s important to vary your child’s diet and altering just one or two items each day can help introduce new tastes and textures. Plus it helps encourage them to take more interest in what they’re eating. Try exchanging an apple for a handful of fresh strawberries. Or, instead of plain cheese sandwiches, try adding a spoonful of chutney or some spring onions.
The humble sandwich is a lunchbox stalwart and when there’s not much in the fridge, it’s so easy to reach for the loaf. But with a bit of forward planning, you can vary the types of sandwich, making lunch that bit more exciting. Use wraps (try this tasty idea for for tomato meatball wraps), French bread or rolls for a bit of variety. You can also substitute bread for cold chicken drumsticks or a pasta salad. Noodles and couscous also offer good slow-release carbs and make a tasty alternative to a bread-based lunch. And what children don’t love sausage rolls - so try these vegetarian sausage rolls?
Involve your children
Encouraging your children to help choose what goes into their lunch boxes is a great way to ensure they eat everything you put in there. Getting them to help you bake is a fun activity and will be proud of the finished product in their lunch box the next day at school. Or show them how to grow their own cress in yoghurt pots or egg shells. They can harvest the cress themselves, making egg-and-cress sandwiches a whole lot more exciting.
If you’re wondering how to inject some veggies into the mix, try carrot and cucumber sticks and a mild dip such as hummus or a home-made mix of cream cheese and natural yoghurt. Or try other veggies roasted for added flavour. Cherry tomatoes also make ideal finger food and anything bite-size goes down well with children, with the added bonus that they’re packed with essential vitamins.
Make the most of your freezer
Instead of a chocolate bar, why not bake a batch of mini muffins and pop one into your child’s lunch box each day? They’ll love these unusual (and very yummy) strawberry and peach ones. Most recipes make 12 or more and they freeze brilliantly so you can save some for the next week.
Make sure they have plenty to drink
If your child's not a great water drinker, a juice box is a great way to sneak in another of your child’s 5 a day. But bear in mind that fruit juices are naturally very sweet so look out for juices that have been diluted with spring water to keep the natural sugars down. Check the label to ensure there are no added sweeteners, colours or preservatives.