the lunchbox helper
However enthusiastic you are about food the daily lunchbox(es) can break even the brightest of spirits. I believe that you only need to look to achieve three things: colour, freshness and simplicity. Life as a parent is already too busy to cook elaborate lunchbox fillings but that doesnt need to mean that lunch boxes are dull and boring. I've set out my simple formula below (with ideas, recipes and tips) and once you get into this mindset you'll find that the daily lunchbox filling is stress free and you might even get a bit creative.
[For more ideas and my favourite products you can also check out my guest post for Just Kidding Middle East]
1. start with the carbs.
Carbohydrates such as bread, rice or pasta should make up the back bone of the lunchbox. Don't stress too much about this being boring or 'samey', children need fuel and energy to make sure they can concentrate and enjoy school or nursery. Here are 5 ways to make their daily carbs a little bit more exciting:
(1) buy different shaped rolls or cut sandwiches or quesadillas with a cookie cutter into fun shapes
(2) use leftover risotto to mould into little rice patties or balls
(3) use their favourite pasta shapes and let them choose 2 of their favourite toppings for a pasta 'salad.
(4) make mini pizzas or flatbread the evening before and let them decorate themselves
(5) soak noodles for 5 minutes and coat lightly with a little soy sauce and add leftover meats + veg
2. add the protein.
Over 5 days I aim to provide 2-3 different forms of protein. Three simple ways to achieve this are:
(1) boil 2 days worth of eggs on a Sunday evening ready to be popped into lunch boxes over the week
(2) save leftover roast meat or meat/veggie patties and serve as 'DIY burgers' or sandwiches
(3) use tinned tuna or cured meats and fish which need little or no preparation (try to limit this to 1-2 times a week due to the salt content)
If you have some time then here are five lunchbox friendly recipes that you can give a try [click on the different protein icons for recipe].
3. add 2-3 portions of fruit + veg.
Eating the rainbow is one of my number one mantras as it ensures that you and your family are getting all the necessary vitamins and minerals into your body. It also accepts that children (and adults) don't like all fruits and vegetables but by looking to consume a variety of 'colours' you ensure that your family are getting as wide a selection as possible.
The fruit and vegetable wheels below include my favourite lunchbox fillers and on a daily basis I make sure that my daughters' lunchboxes capture at least 2-3 'colours' and that they have around 2 handfuls of fruit and vegetables.
Below is an example of how by just starting with ten fruit and vegetables you can provide five days of different lunch fillers full of colour and nutrients.
cucumber + carrot sticks [w hummus]
strawberries [on top of greek yoghurt]
avocado + pea salad
cantaloupe melon [serve w parma ham]
corn on the cob
cantaloupe melon + blueberries
carrot + red pepper sticks [w hummus]
avocado [serve w smoked salmon or a boiled egg]
strawberries + blueberries
And some top tips.....
4. and a little something extra.....
Once you've covered carbohydrate, protein and fruit and veg I generally add in an extra snack which provides additional nutrients and minerals and packs up one of the main food groups already discussed.
-hummus - fantastic with a whole host of raw, chopped veggies and also a wonderful source of protein. You can add in different vegetable purees for extra nutrients and colour- beetroot or sweet potato are our favourites.
-fruit smoothies*- fruit juices and smoothies should be limited to 150ml per day but its a fun way to inject some different flavour combinations and get an extra portion of fruit (or veggies) [*recipes coming soon]
-popcorn- so easy to make and kids absolutely adore it. You can add different toppings or coatings but to be honest I think plain and slightly salted is my favourite
-dried fruit- dried fruit is packed with natural sugars so try to limit this snack to 1-2 times a week and at mealtimes. You can also use them as the base for energy balls like my raw 'bounty' truffles which I pop into lunch boxes as a special treat.
Getting your children involved in the daily lunchbox not only helps you out but also makes them feel empowered in choosing what you are adding. If you don't want them to actually choose the specific foods that go in then just let them put it in the containers or choose what 'colours' they want that day.
Children love to feel in control so try just putting the separate components of sandwiches or pasta salads in the box and let them put it all together at lunchtime. This not only gives them a feeling of control and also allows them to get involved, have fun and experiment with food.
Childrens' behaviour changes vastly in different environments so lunch boxes are a great way to expose them to new foods that they don't normally try at home. Don't go too far out of their comfort zone but present new foods in fun ways.