Send 'em off with a lunchbox full of goodness
Do you send your child off in the morning with a lunchbox bursting with colour and open it that evening to see all the fruit and veg untouched and intact? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
It’s entirely possible your child is just really bored with the same old food routine. So don’t be afraid to try something new. Create ‘cold pots’ based around pasta, noodles or rice with ingredients they love (chicken, salmon, ham, cheese cubes, peas). Add beans, chickpeas or lentils and sprinkle with seeds for extra goodness.
Try dressings such as pesto, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or for a delicious Asian touch, try this: mix one tablespoon each of soy sauce, sesame oil and rice vinegar, plus one teaspoon of palm sugar and the juice of one lime (delicious on noodles and salads).
2. Bento boxes for kids
Jump on the bento box bandwagon and fill a tray with small containers: protein choices could include cut up meat and fish, hard boiled eggs, chickpeas and cheese cubes. Choose wholegrain carbohydrates such as homemade muffins, wholewheat crackers or rye toasts and include a colourful selection of their favourite fruit and veg, cut into bite-size chunks.
Often, just presenting a boring old sandwich a new way can tempt a child to tuck in. Using large biscuit cutters in various shapes takes no time at all (although beware as it can be wasteful), or try using alternatives to bread slices such as mini bagels or pittas. Kids also love ‘pinwheel’ sandwiches: spread the filling over a soft tortilla, roll up and cut into bite-size pieces, securing with a cocktail stick.
4. Be creative with finger food
Bearing in mind most children just want to eat and run at lunchtime, bite-size foods and stuff on sticks (cocktail sticks or toothpicks) is ideal. Try the old favourites like cheese and pineapple, or rolled turkey slices and mini mozzarella balls. A celery stick makes a perfect ‘boat’: cut up into bite-sized pieces and fill with cream cheese or hummus.
Pack a small container with a delicious dip such as guacamole, hummus, or spicy bean, alongside carrot, pepper or cucumber sticks, or breadsticks, cheese straws or homemade tortilla chips (brush wholewheat soft tortillas with a little mild olive oil, cut into triangles and sprinkle with parmesan for flavouring, then bake in a medium-hot oven for 12-15 minutes).
You can also pack ‘fruit dips’: mixing plain yoghurt with a little bit of melted chocolate will be a very tempting dip for strawberries, apple slices, melon balls and pineapple chunks.
If your child has a favourite dinner, use leftovers for lunch. Spaghetti bolognese and macaroni cheese pack up well in a wide-mouth thermos flask, and slices of Spanish omelette and homemade pizza travel well and are good eaten cold.
6. Don’t give them too much
We’ve said this before, but kids don’t want to linger over lunch – they’ll be dying to get out there and play footy, swap cards or do handstands. As you pack, try to strike a balance between making sure they don’t get hungry in the afternoon and ensuring they can eat with plenty of time for their lunchtime activity. Giving your child just the right amount means they have more chance of eating everything you pack.
Get around the ‘crisps and a treat’ hurdle by making your own healthier versions. Homemade cookies, brownies and flapjacks can include dried fruit and seeds, try home-baked tortilla chips and Parmesan crisps, or a pot of savoury popcorn. Seeds are a delicious and nutritious addition: try roasting a selection with a spoonful each of honey and soy sauce.
This is controversial, but sneaking in hidden veg can be a marvellous thing. Make a big batch of tomato sauce adding onions, garlic, celery and leeks, then puréeing until smooth and you can use it as pizza topping or a pasta sauce.
Add beetroot to brownies, and grated carrot and courgette to muffins, and try pumpkin loaf and banana bread – they’ll never know!
Particularly on chillier days, homemade soup in a thermos flask makes a warming and nutritious addition to a packed lunch. Kids’ favourites include blended soups like creamy mushroom, butternut squash or spicy lentil, or try chicken ramen or minestrone packed with noodles or tiny pasta shapes.
Spend a bit of time with your child in the kitchen trying out recipes to come up with two or three soups they really love. Pack some croutons for sprinkling on at the last minute, or some crunchy breadsticks for dipping (homemade cheese straws are perfect for dipping into tomato soup).
Smoothies are a great way to incorporate a portion of fruit and some calcium into your child’s day. Talk about some combinations and ask your child to come up with some ideas (they may be weird and wonderful, but give them a go and have some taste tests!).
Try banana and blueberry, strawberry and kiwi, pineapple and mango. As a base try yogurt (plain dairy or soya), almond milk or coconut milk, and add some ground seeds for extra protein and a nutritional boost.
It sounds odd, but avocado is also a delicious addition to smoothies, giving a lovely creamy taste and adding fibre, healthy fats and vitamins. You could even try a small handful of spinach, making it bright green, and calling it ‘the Green Goblin’.
11. Get your child involved
One of the best ways to make sure the lunchbox doesn’t come home intact is to let your child make choices and get involved in what’s packed. Together, make lists of foods your child likes and then start negotiating the fruit and veg. With younger children, paint a rainbow, stick on pictures of fruit and vegetables according to their colour and choose the day’s rainbow selection.
If this is a bridge too far, simply give them some healthy choices: ‘Would you like an apple or a pear today?’ or ‘Shall we make a stuffed pitta or a wrap?’
When you and your child have decided what is going in the lunchbox, let them pack it. It may take a few extra minutes in the morning rush, but they will feel more in control, will know what to expect at lunchtime and may be more willing to eat the lot!