If you are a mum, which you most likely are clicking on this post, then you are well aware (if not secretly counting down) that school starts back again next week. Just quietly, I’m “slightly” excited to not have to hear arguing for at least some of the day. This is a super long post, but I wanted to pack a whole heap of ideas into this post at the start of the year and I will post lunchbox pics throughout the year as I have new ideas!
As much as this may surprise some, I HATE making lunchboxes. I totally understand now why when we got to high school, mum stopped making our lunch. I loathe it already and my kids are only 5 and 7! That said, I actually have a few good ideas when it comes to lunchboxes, mostly led by the girl’s requests.
Before I launch into the food though, I just wanna get all “health professional” on you. I used to work as a Dietitian and saw a LOT of parents with kids. Usually I wouldn’t go into to so much health detail, but I know that number one on mum’s lists (after making sure oneself is caffeinated) is to know that you are providing a healthy lunch for your kids.
Just remember – as with anything with kids, test out the options below on a weekend before sending them off to school with it. Then you will at least know they like it and not go hungry all day!
TOKEN NUTRITION SPEAL
We have pretty much all seen the circle/plate that has all of the food groups and what we should be providing for good health. What most mums haven’t really seen is the more realistic kid’s meals circle/plate I have here. When you are thinking about your kid’s lunch-boxes (and dinner meals for that matter) you really only need to cover 3 bases: carbs; protein; and veg in about equal portions. Before you panic about fruit, consider that most childcare/kindies/schools have a fruit break early morning or in the arvo, and then if your kids have some fruit as an after-school snack or with their breakfast, then that’s their 2 serves. Two is all they really need, any more and they are probably loading up on too much sugar (yes even though its natural) and missing out on other important nutrients.
When you are packing your lunchboxes, remember to think of the whole lunch box, not just what is for lunch. A ham and cheese sandwich is fine for a non-veggie lunch option if they’ve eaten veggie sticks for recess!
A word on portions too – go with how much your child usually eats. ALL kids eat different amounts, some are big eaters, some baffle you that they can even function on how little they eat. Try to match their portions and don’t overwhelm them with super large portions. You will know if you aren’t providing enough for recess and lunch if they are starving when they get home! On the flipside, if there is a lot of food coming home at the end of the day, you are probably giving them too much. If you are worried about how much/or little, your child eats, click here to go and see a Dietitian.
FOOD SAFETY SPEAL
Yes, I’m getting the boring stuff out of the way first. Food safety is pretty important because we all know how absolutely F@#k-ed having kids with gastro is. Good news is that all you need is an ice pack and a cold bag for your kid’s lunch (if it’s not kept in a fridge) and you are set. There are so many cute cold bags (insulated bags if you want the technical name) out there now, I find it hard to stick to just one for the girls. Ice packs are really cheap now (Kmart and Aldi have them for a couple of dollars) but if you want a cheaper version, freeze some water in a zip-lock bag. Just double bag it one its frozen to prevents spills in lunch boxes.
Okay now we know the food groups to cover and how to keep them cold, lets jump into some ideas:
These seem to be the cool thing in my Year 2’s class last year. Wraps are easy for her to make and help with too. If I’m being organised (not often really ha ha) I will get her to make it the afternoon before and put it in the fridge. If not, she can whip one up in the morning after her breakky. Some of her creations have been:
- Chicken slices, mayo, grated cheese, lettuce and veggie sticks.
- Ham, grated cheese and grated carrot.
- Chicken mixed with pesto, lettuce and grated cheese.
- Ham, cheese, lettuce and tomato (I added the tomato into her recipe here as she thinks tomato is the devil).
- Cream cheese and veggie sticks. You can add some cut up schnitzel from the night before’s dinner too if you have it!
TOP TIPS # wrap the wrap in greaseproof paper, twist each end then cut in the middle. You can then put this in a sandwich container to keep fresh. Glad wrap will also work but I try to minimise waste with this!
Holy hell do we love a bit of Bento lunch. The girls have it often at home but in plate version, so being able to have it in a lunchbox at school is just the best thing ever for them. If you have been living under a rock (and as mums that happens often I hear ya) then to explain, a Bento box is a lunchbox with lots of sections. There are some really gorgeous, good quality ones out there from Stuck On You that I have fallen IN LOVE with but also some super cool cheap ones at K-Mart too (pictured above and only $5!!).
I’m going to split up the Bento options into the three food groups and you can just add in as many options as you have holes in your Bento box. Now, you can go all fancy and cut out shapes in shit, your kids will love it. I just don’t have time for that and the wasting bothers me, so usually don’t. But that’s just lazy old me!
- Brown/wholegrain rice crackers – these are a higher fibre version than white ones or mini rice cakes.
- Pop corn – if your kids are bigger. Some childcare centres don’t allow popcorn for safety reasons with littlies.
- Cut up hot cross buns.
- Any type of grainy crackers.
- Small squares/rectangles of sandwich (you can use one piece of bread and make half a sandwich).
- Wraps spread with cream cheese and grated carrot then rolled up and cut into rounds.
- Homemade bread pinwheels.
- Savoury rice – make sure you pack a small spoon.
- Toasted wholemeal pita bread with season all sprinkled on it.
- Wrap bread or pita cut into triangles and lightly toasted.
- Mini veg and bacon muffins.
- Shredded chicken – buy a roast chicken at the start of the week and shred it into a container. It will be good for 3-4 days.
- Sliced ham, roast beef or turkey.
- Cold mini meatballs or patties.
- 4 bean mix, chickpeas or cannellini beans.
- Cheese sticks or cubes.
- Nuts if your school allows it.
- The all-important veggie sticks – carrot, cucumber, celery, capsicum. Softer sticks are better for younger kids.
- Shredded lettuce – sounds like they would never eat it but I’ve been surprised with this one before.
- Cherry tomatoes.
- Snow peas.
- Green beans that have been softened in boiling water for a few minutes then cooled.
- Dips like hummus or tzatziki are healthy options, or even just Greek yoghurt.
- Dried fruit – just remember that this is still fruit. Too much of this and your kids are going to be sugar loading.
- Small bits of fruit.
TOP TIP # most of these options you can prepare in a big batch at the start of the week, put in containers and just fill the bento box each morning or night!
SANDWICHES – NOT THE BORING OPTION I WOULD HAVE THOUGHT
I’m not amazingly keen on sangas, but my girls freaking love them. For longer than I would like to admit they ate ham and cheese everyday, but I am happy to say that we are now venturing out and trying some new flavours. I have some sandwich tips, mostly because I would rather eat my own arse with a spoon than eat a soggy sandwich!
- Use margarine to spread on your sandwiches, it will stop your fillings from making the sandwich soggy – to a certain extent, keep on reading.
- The healthiest bread is wholegrain, but wholemeal or rye are both good options. If your kids aren’t used to it, try “zebra sandwiches” where you put one grain bread slice and one white.
- Anything wet – tomatoes, cucumber, tuna that hasn’t been drained well – please, please, PLEASE, don’t put them next to the bread. They will slush up that bread and make it a disgusting mess. Put them in between less wet fillings like lettuce that has been patted dry, meat or a cheese slice (not plastic cheese, real cheese).
- Try to make wet fillings less wet by patting them dry with paper towel (works for lettuce or grated carrot), taking the seeds out of cucumber before slicing, and draining tuna really well (you can push this in a sieve with a spoon to squeeze out the juice).
- Cut them with cool cutters, we have trains and boats, a butterfly and a new unicorn addition on rotation. I don’t like the wastage with cutting off the crusts so I put them in with the sandwich cut into smaller portions. Eight times out of ten they are eaten!
Here are some of the faves in our house with notes for freezer friendly versions (FF):
- Ham and cheese, and also vegemite and cheese. FF
- Tuna, mayonnaise (you can add corn to the mayo) and lettuce. FF if you take out the lettuce and butter the bread.
- Chicken mixed with softened cream cheese and grated carrot. FF if you take out the salad.
- Chicken mixed with pesto. FF
- Chopped up schnitzel (chicken or beef) with salad.
TOP TIPS #freezing sandwiches makes morning lunch box packing a breeze. Freeze them flat and in ziplock bags or in a large container, separated with greaseproof paper.
OTHER OPTIONS THAT CAN BE PUT ON ROTATION
- Cold rolls always go down a treat with our 7 year old. Not so much the 5 year old.
- Pasta salads – our usual is cooked and cooled pasta, grated cheese, diced cucumber, cherry tomatoes, and olives if you have amazingly adventurous kids.
- Small homemade pita breads made into pizzas with tomato paste, ham, veggies and cheese. These freeze really well too.
I haven’t even broached the topic of recess but I think enough is enough for today! I will write a recess post for another time.
Hopefully this post has given you a few options to run with for kids lunches. Please comment below or on Facebook your lunchbox ideas and lets make this a master go-to for all the mums out there battling the ol’ lunchbox gig!
Happy lunchbox-making 🙂