Be Prepared – Ten simple steps towards a healthier lunch box
1. Make Sunday ‘ baking day’ and get the children involved. Bake a loaf of wholemeal brown bread to use during the week for sandwiches. Or choose one of the healthy sweet treats from below and bake a batch of wholemeal scones, savoury courgette cupcakes, blueberry and chia seed muffins or Susan Jane White’s (sugar-free) family flapjacks. When the children have helped you make them they will be much more enthusiastic about eating them!
2. One very simple step towards helping your children to improve their eating habits is to try and eat together as a family as much as you can. Children will be much more inclined to try new foods and finish their meal if they are sitting at a table with the rest of the family all doing the same. Making your Sunday evening meal a roast dinner, and choosing a larger cut of meat then you need to feed the family, is a clever way to ensure you have home-cooked, good quality cooked meat ready for next few day’s lunchboxes. You will get great value out of a home-baked ham. While roast beef cut into really thin slivers makes a delicious sandwich filler. And who doesn’t love a roast chicken sandwich?
3. If you can, try and rotate the breads you use for sandwiches – wholemeal rolls, wraps, bagels, pitta etc – to keep things interesting.
4. Kids sick of sandwiches? Include oat cakes, or seeded crackers in their box instead with slices of cheese or cooked meat stored separately to put together themselves. ‘Building’ their own lunch can liven things up a bit.
5. A tub of natural yoghurt and a little portion of granola to add just before eating (here’s a great homemade version Healthy Granola) also adds a bit of healthy, interactive fun as above.
6. Let your kids have fun experimenting with sweet/salty combos. Let them taste a chunk of hard cheese followed by a baby cherry tomato. Delicious. You can also try cucumber and feta or a strip of Parma ham followed by a grape. They taste great together and can be easily added to a lunchbox to change things up a bit. Get them to come up with other combos to try.
7. When you are preparing family meals during the week, prepare a little extra (where relevant) for the next day’s lunchbox. Make extra penne pasta and use to make a tuna, sweetcorn and pasta salad for the lunchbox. Leftover rice can be made into a savoury rice salad. Noodles too.
8. Don’t forget about eggs. A healthy, versatile form of protein. A hard boiled egg can be a great lunchbox addition. While a batch of homemade egg mayonnaise will makes a great sandwich or wrap filler. A slice of homemade frittata is tasty, filling and easy to eat on the go (smoked salmon and pea fritatta).
9. During cold, winter months homemade soup brought into school in a thermos flask is a great way to keep kids going.
10. Think mediterranean – olives, good quality charcuterie meat, bread sticks, chunks of hard cheese, slices of fresh fruit (apple, pear, etc) – all make easy, healthy additions to a healthy lunchbox.
Simple building blocks for a better lunch
Fruit: fresh and dried
Vegetables: raw or cooked
Protein: tuna, ham, chicken, hard boiled eggs, crispy bacon, bean dips eg hummus
Grains: focus on wholemeal – bread, rolls, bagels, pita, crackers, wraps, scones, rice, pasta, rice cakes, oatcakes, wholegrains, e.g. barley, buckwheat, quinoa
Dairy: yogurt, cheese, milk
Avoid: crisps, fizzy drinks, processed meats and foods, muesli or breakfast bars, juices
Current lunchbox thinking in Ireland
Tired of sandwiches? Ten make-ahead ideas
Ten homemade sweet treats
Five fun savoury lunchbox ideas
Lunchbox ideas on Instagram
Many schools now have a nut-free policy, which cuts out any chance of peanut butter sarnies. Susan Jane White makes the case for seed butters – just like nut butters, only cheaper and healthier. Tahini and honey sandwiches are favourites in her house and she also said that pumpkin seed and hemp seed butters are fabulous.