If one of your household titles is Chief Packed Lunch Maker, then this post might be of interest to you!
I have been asked by a friend who is involved with her local pre-school if I could make some suggestions for fun, practical and healthy packed lunch items as part of the pre-school’s current focus on healthful lunches. As this is a task close to my heart, and the pre-school is in fact in the same village as where my grand-parents lived, I was happy to take part in their conversation.
Whether you are packing lunches for your kiddos 1 day a week or 5, we all have the same fundamental goal of wanting its contents to be eaten (and enjoyed) without having to dedicate hours to the production process. True?
This post contains my three top priorities for packing lunches. It includes the basics of what to include from a nutritional stand point, some fun lunch box fillers to keep them varied and finally some helpful ideas and links for how to pack your lunch safely.
1. A NUTRITIONALLY BALANCED packed lunch should include fruits and vegetables, protein, grains and dairy. All washed down with a good old fashion glass of water. Refer to your local or national health board for the specifics on quantities and proportions, as they will vary globally. But if like me you like to keep things simple, think of one round plate, with one side filled with fruits and veggies, and the other half divided kind of equally between the protein, grains and dairy. A bit like this Blue Peter-esque diagram!
Packing a lunch that is nutritionally balanced doesn’t happen by accident and requires a bit of planning, so GET ORGANISED and plan weekly so that you can be ECONOMICALLY and TIME EFFICIENT. I don’t think anyone wants to spend hours planning and executing a packed lunch.
2. So, here are some of my LUNCH BOX IDEAS of how to avoid those ‘soggy sandwiches, packet of crisps and a bruised apple’ scenarios to fulfil the nutritional goals in a fun, interesting and time saving manner!
Avoid the faff and batch cook and prepare where ever possible. Store responsibly, then fridge or freeze appropriately, so that they are ready to grab and go in the morning.
Batch Cook using either a large dish that can be easily portioned or individual muffin size tins that are perfect for little mouths. Follow the links below for recipes that can easily be adapted to make individual size portions.
Sandwiches… A classic packed lunch box filler and there is absolutely nothing wrong with a good sandwich, but I will try to use whole wheat or multigrain bread and I ALWAYS spread a thin layer of butter on the bread to provide a waterproof layer before getting started on the filling. Whether your brood like jazzy fillings or more straightforward, when presented well (and kiddos do care what it looks like), will always be gobbled up.
Try mixing it up using alternatives to regular sliced bread… Rice cakes, whole wheat pita, multigrain wraps, savoury muffins, English muffins, mini homemade scones, veggie crackers for example. Try Turkey and slaw wraps, or even this Chicken satay recipe in a flatbread with some cucumber. Delish.
Fruit and Veg… Just get it in where ever you can! In sandwiches, pasta salads, slices, cakes, bakes, yogurts. Wherever you can! Chopped up and prepared fruit and veg is so much more appetizing and VISUALLY APPEALING than whole, so get chopping. Sticks, cubes, chunks. Pineapple, melon, berries, grapes, cherries, mango, citrus segments, kiwi to name a few.
Most chopped raw fruit and veg will last in the fridge for up to three days. I would give apples and avocado a miss, anything that will brown when cut will likely be disregarded at lunch (I know I would). So get your Tupperware out and cover the chopped produce in damp kitchen paper towels to prevent them from drying out.
Greek yogurt with frozen berries or a cube of frozen fruit compote or puree, exactly like the ones you made when you were weaning, is a great source of protein, a good fruity portion and an instance edible ice block for the lunch box. It will have defrosted enough by lunch time to be totally enjoyable. Win, win, win!
Basically, just keep it simple! Use familiar foods that you know your kiddos enjoy. It’s highly unlikely that they will choose the school lunch table to try something unknown without you there to gee them on.
3. Make it TRANSPORTABLE and SAFE to eat (obviously)
There are lots of lovely bento box style containers available online that are great for compartmentalising your food items. Great to ensure your yogurt doesn’t spill out over your cheese straws etc. Here are a few that I think look great that don’t seem ridiculously over priced… Here, here, And here.
However, for little hands, I think it best to keep things as straight forward as possible and not too sophisticated! I think these are BRILLIANT!
I like to use different sized reusable plastic containers, that are primarily dishwasher safe, but also a little more environmentally friendly than using rolls of clingfilm around every item. These seem quite fun, but these seem to do the job equally well, and actually give you more size variety for a lower price. Anyway, they don’t have to match, or be colour co-ordinated for the job they need to do and can be purchase easily enough from any number of suppliers online.
Keeping this lovingly prepared lunch FRESH and SAFE to eat after being out of the fridge for maybe three hours is unquestionably important. So to remove any concern, I invested in some of these little reusable beauties and they are worth their weight in gold. This or something similar is a worthy purchase to pop into their lunch box or bag.
This topic is certainly not exhaustive, so please do share what works for you and your kiddos, any lunch item vessel you would recommend or something you have tried that has been successfully devoured! Use the comments section below so that we can all benefit from each others successes!