Tips for packing a healthy school lunch
by Eleanor Cullen on Sep 14, 2020
Feeding your kids at home and getting all the right things into those little bodies is challenging but then they start school and you are thrown into the world of school lunchboxes! We’re talking about delicious, nutritious, appealing, allergy-friendly, packet-free food that can be stored in a box all day – and will get eaten! Here are a few tips on how to keep things interesting and healthy.
1. Include all food groups
A balanced lunch is key to keeping kids alert and active throughout the afternoon at school. There are various components which should always be part of your lunchbox packing:
- fresh fruit and veggies
- lean protein such as meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and legumes
- low-fat dairy such as milk, cheese, or yogurt
- healthy carbohydrates including oats, wholegrain bread, wraps, crackers, pasta, rice, or other grains.
2. Go a bit bento!
Mixing it up a bit keeps things interesting for the kids and the parents – trust us, by day 203 of packing lunchboxes, you will be glad of the variety too!. Serving the food in a bento-style lunchbox with different compartments naturally leads to a wider range of foods and colour. Take time to read the labels on lunch boxes and drinks bottles to check what materials they are made from and, if possible, avoid plastic!
We Might Be Tiny Stickie Plates let you neatly portion your food creations into three different sections. They are super cute and available in a range of gorgeous colours, and they are free of BPA, BPS, PVC, and phthalates and are 100% food-grade silicone. Oh, and did we mention that they are dishwasher-safe?!
One last thing, and this may sound obvious, but ensure they can open their lunchbox. If little fingers can’t unscrew or unclip lids, you’re guaranteed to have a full lunchbox and hangry child at the end of the day!
3. Get the kids involved
Encourage your kids to be part of the lunchbox packing process, so that they learn good habits from the get-go which will set them up for packing a healthy, well balanced lunchbox completely on their own a few years down the track - what a milestone to look forward to! Take them grocery shopping with you and let them have a say (to a certain extent) about what goes into the basket.
4. Buy in season fruit and veggies
Buying in-season fruit and vegetables not only keeps the cost down but it also helps add variety in the lunchboxes throughout the year and exposes your child to a wide range of fruit and vegetable deliciousness.
5. Keep cool!
Slimy cheese or warm yogurt is never going to be a winner with kids so it is important to consider where the lunchbox will be kept during the morning. Putting an icepack or frozen water bottle in the lunchbox will help keep it cool until lunchtime, keeping everything fresher and the temperature at a level that is safe for food. A little thermos is a great investment for keeping a yoghurt-y snack cool throughout the day.
6. Portion size
The ideal lunch box should hold enough food to keep your child nourished throughout the day, and as many schools break for ‘crunch and sip’ or ‘brain food’ this means snacks as well as lunch.
Portion sizes will vary depending on your child’s appetite. Some kids eat a huge breakfast but only three or four items in their lunch box, while others will polish off the equivalent of a three-course meal at school without any difficulty! Get to know your child’s appetite and eating patterns to meet their requirements. This cuts back on the amount of food coming home wasted (or sneakily being put into the bin at school!).
It is recommended that kids drink between 6-8 cups of water a day or even more in hotter weather or if they have been particularly active. Let your child choose a favourite water bottle and set them the challenge of drinking the whole thing twice a day. A drink of water can be sparkled up with a few pieces of frozen fruit, chopped cucumber or fresh mint leaves.
8. Get ahead
After a long day, it is oh so tempting to leave the task of packing lunchboxes until the next morning but (and this is based on experience) that is usually a decision that is regretted the next day amidst the early morning getting-ready-for-school/work chaos! There are many elements of the lunchbox which can be prepared and/or packed the night before: pack up portions of chopped fruit and veggies and store in the fridge; put crackers, dried fruit, or seed mix into containers; leave aside a portion of dinner to be reheated the next day and stored in a thermos or turn leftover rice or pasta into a salad; make sure there are icepacks in the freezer.
Bake a batch of savoury or sweet muffins and freeze. Simply take out of the freezer and pop into the lunchbox in the morning – it will be perfectly defrosted by lunch time and will help keep everything else cool! Win win!
9. Add a little sparkle!
There is one sure-fire way of getting kids to eat stuff that is good for them: put a face on it! Get creative with fruit and veggies – a celery stick makes a very cute caterpillar with a few simple pantry items and a bit of imagination! Cookie cutters allow you to have some fun making shapes out of fruit (melons are great for this), cheese, bread or cold meat. Use kid-friendly skewers to make colourful food kebabs – you will be amazed what kids will eat if it’s served on a stick!
10. Message in a lunch box
In addition to refuelling bodies for their afternoon of learning, the lunchbox can be a beautiful opportunity to send a little message of love from home. Even the bigger kids will be secretly delighted to find a virtual hug, joke, or just a little hello hidden amongst their cherry tomatoes!