Nutritious Lunchboxes

I recently wrote this article for a local magazine and thought I would expand on it here with some suggestions of foods to include in your kids lunchbox.

“It’s back to school time and that means getting organised to fill lunchboxes with foods you hope your child will eat and will give them the energy they need for their busy day. Here are my top 5 tips for nutritious lunchboxes.

1.  Get your kids involved. Asking your child what they would like in their lunchbox will increase the chances of them eating it. They can help you make a list and even help you at the supermarket. Older children can start helping prepare the night before by gathering up all the non-perishable items. Try preparing in advance by boiling eggs, chopping veg, stocking up on yoghurts, fruit and sandwich fillings.

2.  Mix it up – sandwiches are quick and easy, but if your child becomes bored try to vary it by alternating pitta, wraps, and sandwich thins. Opt for wholegrain varieties to boost their fibre intake. Frittata or pasta salad are good options too – try adding tuna, chicken, beans and pulses.

3.  Choose nutritious snacks. Snacks play an important part in contributing to a child’s energy needs, but most children consume too much sugar and many schools have a healthy lunchbox policy that means no chocolate, no crisps, no sweets. Options include cheese and crackers, savoury muffins, vegetable sticks and dip, olives, homemade bliss balls or try making your own popcorn. Instead of yoghurts with added sugar, try natural yoghurt with fruit puree or fresh fruit.

4.  Presentation – there’s not much time for this in the morning, so try buying lunchboxes with little compartments so that you can make the food more enticing by including small portions of a selection of foods which will increase the appeal. Cut up food into bite size pieces for ease. For younger children, you can add some fun by including a colourful napkin or even a little message to brighten their day.

5.  Remember that children don’t need large portions. Lunch is only one part of their daily intake and a serving should generally be the size of their own palm. Try to include 2 serves of carbohydrate, 1 serve of protein, 2 serves of fruit/vegetables and a serve of calcium if they don’t have dairy or dairy-free alternatives at breakfast.

6. Safety concerns: remember to cut up grapes lengthways in half or quarters, same with cherry tomatoes. Sausages should be cut lengthways in half and then into bite size pieces. Check with your preschool or school on their policies, likelihood is that you’ll have to avoid nuts and peanuts in lunchboxes due to the possibility of other children having an allergy to these.

Remember to keep the food cool by adding an ice block or you could freeze a bottle of water which will have defrosted by lunchtime, thereby giving them an all-important drink.”

Here’s my list of ideas:

  • Sandwich fillings: cream cheese, marmite, cheese, boiled eggs, tinned tuna or salmon, cold cuts of meat (avoid those high in salt and nitrates)

  • Use wholewheat bread, wraps, sandwich thins or pitta. 

  • Cold pizza

  • Pasta salad – can add tuna, chicken, beans, sweetcorn, peas, feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, grated carrot and courgette, pesto, mayonnaise

  • Popcorn – try popping your own in a pan at home – it’s really quick and easy

  • Plain yoghurt and stewed fruit

  • Fresh fruit cut up for small hands – add a squeeze of lemon onto apple to stop it browning

  • Bliss balls – look out for my recipe coming soon

  • Breadsticks and vegetable sticks with hummus

  • Small amounts of dried fruit (serving the size of their palm) 

  • Cold sausages – can cut up and put on a skewer with some cucumber or pepper

  • Chunks of cheese

  • Crackers and dip

  • Pinwheels made with shop bought puff pastry

  • Savoury muffins

Lunch boxesRuth Harvey