Packing a nourishing lunchbox doesn’t have to be difficult, laborious or expensive. Here are my top 5 things include and my favourite lunchbox hacks.
What to include
This is what fills hungry tummies (so important!) & provides the building blocks for muscle and hormones. Think: Tinned salmon/tuna, preservative-free sausages, sliced steak, chicken wings/drumsticks, chickpeas, lentils, eggs, nuts, seeds, tempeh, gummies. Avoid processed deli meats.
2. Complex Carbohydrates
These give kids the stamina and energy they need to get through the busy school day. Think: Whole grain/sourdough breads/wraps, whole grain/spelt/pulse pasta, quinoa, millet, lentils, roasted sweet potato, cold cooked potatoes, cous cous.
3. 2+ Serves of Veggies
They provide so many important vitamins, minerals, fibre & phytonutrients yet less than 1% of kids eat the recommended 5 servings (5 kid-sized handfuls) a day. Get the kids to choose their 2+ pieces and include a dip like hummus or guacamole to make then more enticing. Think: Baby cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, capsicum, carrot sticks (rub some lemon juice on them so they don’t brown), cold steamed green beans, fermented pickles, corn on cob, roast sweet potato.
4. 1x Piece of Fresh Fruit
Full of fibre & phytonutrients, fruit can also add natural sweetness and colour. Think: Whole pieces of fruit that are in-season.
5. Nourishing Fats
Fats are what satiate kids hunger and signal to their brain that they’re full. Think: Organic dairy (butter, yoghurt, white cheese), avocado, nuts and seeds.
As much as possible plan ahead. Cut up vegetable sticks on the weekend and store in a jar of water with a squeeze of lemon (so they stay crispy), wash fruit when you bring it home from the markets, portion out nuts or trail mix, yogurt or leftovers into individual containers, put small coconut water tetra packs in the freezer to use as ice bricks, or fill up drink bottles with water. Pack as much of the lunchbox the night before as you can – the more you are able to prepare in advance, the more likely you will be to pack healthy foods and avoid the morning rush. Enlist your child’s help here too so that they can learn how to pack a healthy lunch for themselves – gosh, imagine the time this could save you in the future!
Cook food in bulk
When you have some extra time on weekends or evenings, bake a big batch of savoury or sweet muffins, banana bread, cookies, or a slice and pop them in the freezer. Cooking in bulk not only saves you time when packing a healthy lunchbox, it also adds some great variety to the regular lunch choices of sandwiches and wraps.
Love your leftovers
When you’re cooking dinner, make extra that can easily become a leftover lunch, either warmed and taken to school in a thermos or eaten cold. If cold leftovers are new to your kids, it can be helpful to practice eating them for lunch during the holidays so they’re used to it once school starts.
Find a bento-style lunchbox, or one that has separate compartments to encourage colour and variety. It can become very easy to pack a lunchbox with the same foods every day, but having different compartments to fill can encourage variety, even if some items remain the same. These compartments also eliminate the need to individually packaged processed foods, which are no good for our kids or the environment. Small compartments and containers allow you to portion control how much of a certain food you give your kids, so you could give them a homemade sweet biscuit, rather than a packet of processed ones.
Keep food fresh
There’s nothing worse than brown apple slices and a soggy sandwich for lunch. So when you’re packing things like sliced fruit and vegetables, be aware that some may brown (especially apples, carrots avocado and banana) once they’ve been cut so squeeze a little lemon juice on them to prevent this. If you’re making sandwiches the night before, just butter the bread and save adding the filling for the morning – tomato is the worst soggy sandwich offender, so why not include some cherry tomatoes in their lunchbox instead of on their sandwich. If you’re packing a yoghurt or savoury dip in a small container, make sure this seals well and keep it next to a ice pack or frozen coconut water so it remains chilled (below 5’C). Hot food going in to a thermos needs to remain above 60’C so fill the thermos with boiling water to warm it up before adding your hot food.
Water really is the only drink our kids need at school to keep them hydrated and replace the fluids lost during their running around and playing, so send them off with a big stainless steel bottle of filtered water. How much water do our kids need per day? 5-8yo kids need 1L, 9-12yo kids need 1.5L and 13+yo kids need 2L. If you’re packing additional drinks, avoid fruit juice boxes and favoured milks and include a homemade smoothie in a thermos flask, kombucha or plain coconut water.
Get the kids to help
Get your kids involved in the preparation of their lunch, in a way that is age appropriate. Younger children can help portion things like yogurt, popcorn or trail mix; older kids can make their own sandwiches or wraps, and all ages can choose their preferred 1x fruit and 2x vegetables. Involving your child not only teaches them how to plan a healthy school lunch for themselves, it will also eventually reduce one task for you!
Make a plan
A school lunch planner can help you map out the week of food, get input from your child, and ease the morning chaos – I’ve included a free school lunch planner in the downloads for this lesson. You can also keep a list of the healthy food options that your child will eat, so that when you’re stuck one morning wondering what to pack, you can refer back to it this list. Revise and update it as your kids tastebuds, and the school year progresses.
Tell the kids what they’ve got for lunch
If you’re not already enlisting their help to pack the lunch and choose their veggies, then tell or show the kids what they’ve got for lunch that day – this can take the anxiety out of not knowing that some kids can experience.
Write them a note
To make lunch a little more interesting and keep kids feeling warm on the inside (or perhaps embarrassed, depending on their age) – why not leave them a little love note, inspirational quote or idea, or just something that lets them know how important they are. A simple “I love you” or a funny face drawn on their banana or orange is guaranteed to raise a smile.