How do you pack the ideal lunchbox and how do you make sure it gets eaten?
Dietician and mother of two, Kate Di Prima, says it is all about planning.
“Lunch is one of the most important meals for school age kids, and it often comes home untouched,” she says.
“With a bit of forethought and planning, a nutritious and appealing lunch box can be very quick and easy to prepare.
“There is no point turning up on Monday morning and thinking ‘we have nothing here’.”
Kate says parents shouldn’t be afraid to use cold leftovers and to freeze food in advance.
She says food that freezes well includes muffins, yoghurt and grapes. Putting frozen food in a lunchbox can help keep its contents cool.
“(And) leftovers make great lunches the next day and add variety to the menu.”
So, how can you use leftovers in a lunchbox?
- Use leftover roast to make sandwiches and bolognaise sauce make great wraps sprinkled with cheese or taco mince made into burritos.
- Meals like fried rice and even some stir fries are appetizing cold.
- Add leftover meatballs, cutlets or sliced steak with cut-up raw vegetables such as carrot and celery sticks; snow peas and cherry tomatoes.
So, what should be in an ideal lunchbox?
- Protein-rich food (trimmed meat, fish, egg, or legumes) provides protein power to keep children satisfied longer as well as key nutrients such as iron, zinc, omega-3 and B vitamins. Red meat, such as beef and lamb, are good sources of iron and zinc. Add to salads, pasta, or as sandwich fillings.
- Fresh fruit for vitamins and fibre.
- Dairy or soy (cheese, milk, or yoghurt) for calcium and protein.
- Vegetables for antioxidants and fibre.
- Grain-based food (wholegrain bread or crackers, rice, or pasta) for fibre and slow-release energy.
Plus water – it’s the only drink kids need. Plus it’s always helpful to chat with other mums for lunchbox ideas and tips.
So how do you make sure your nutritious lunch gets eaten?
Kate has the following tips to make sure your lunch is eaten.
- Make it interesting. If your kids won’t eat wholemeal bread make them a sandwich using one white and one wholemeal. Cut it into three pieces each way – so you end up with nine little squares. Turn every second square around so that the sandwich looks like a checkerboard. OR roll out the wholemeal bread so it is flat and then roll the sandwich up to make a roll instead.
- Do a trial run. Pack a picnic lunch and take it down to the backyard to introduce new foods to your children. Watch to see what they like and how they access and eat the food.
- Make sure it is accessible. Is the packaging on too tight? Maybe your kids can’t open the container that you’ve put their apple slices in? Use coloured dots or star stickers to identify recess and lunch and to identify which foods to eat first.
- Make it easy to eat. Use small dinner rolls or just one piece of bread in sandwiches to ensure lunch looks manageable. Don’t overfill sandwiches. Use small pieces of fruit or chop into bite-sized pieces (squeeze over some lemon juice to avoid browning).
- Match their routine. If your child has recess late, swap lunch foods with recess foods. By 11.30am most children will be starving and a protein-rich food will help best sustain them for the rest of the day.
And how can you make sure the food is safe?
- Freeze a low fat milk drink, low fat yoghurt tub or freeze fruit cubes – along with an ice brick – to keep contents chilled.
- Make sandwiches, muffins, scrolls etc. a week ahead and freeze. They will be deliciously fresh at lunchtime and will help keep contents cold.
- Invest in an insulated lunch box – with a zip for small hands to open easily.
- Keep food fresh and protected in reusable hard plastic containers.
You’ll find a heap more lunchbox tips and other school info in our Back to School Hub.