Back to school but not back to the same old lunchboxes? Here’s our guide to giving your packed lunch game a boost this school term.
It’s hard to know what’s right or wrong when it comes to packed lunches for kids. Getting that balance between healthy options and making it appeal to your little hungry munchkins is tough. And when it comes to creating a packed lunch, whether that’s prepped in advance or thrown together before the morning school run, it’s sometimes much easier to reach for the same old sandwich filling and snack packets to fill it out.
But it’s important to offer children as much variety as possible so they feel excited about nutritious food, helping to set them up well for the future when they will be making their own food choices.
So, this September, we’ve got some new ideas to improve their lunchboxes and keep them healthy and simple without breaking the bank.
The NHS Eatwell Guide www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/the-eatwell-guide) shows how much of what we eat overall should come from each food group to make sure our kids are having a healthy and balanced diet.
A large proportion of each meal should be made up of vegetables and fruit and it is recommended that we consumer around 5 portions a day. Starchy, carb-laden foods like bread, pasta and potatoes should only make up just a third of our meal and where possible we should opt for wholegrain varieties.
Try and include some dairy (or dairy alternative) and protein in meals too; dairy is a good source of protein and calcium which is needed for healthy bone and muscle development. Other healthy protein sources include lean meat, beans, pulses and fish. In fact, we should aim to have at least two portions of fish a week including an oily variety like salmon or mackerel.
Try and avoid heavily processed foods and those foods high in saturated fat, or with high sugar and salt contents. Of course, we all like a treat now and again but try and limit how much of these you and your family consumer regularly.
Use this eat well guide as a basis for pulling together your child’s packed lunch.
Change 4 Life Lunchbox Top Tips
The NHS ‘Change For Life’ website suggests using carbohydrates as a basis for lunchboxes to keep children fuller for longer. But that doesn’t mean you have to always reach for the loaf. There are plenty of other recipes to try using pasta, potatoes or rice.
Surprise your kids with a DIY lunchbox where they get to create their own lunch from a selection of ingredients like wraps, salad, meat and cheese. They will love to get creative at lunchtime and feel involved with making their food.
If your child struggles with wholegrain foods, you could opt for 50/50 style bread or use one wholegrain slice with one white slice to get them used to it.
Always include salad and veggies, they may not always eat them but keep offering and eventually it becomes the norm, and they will eat it all up.
Crisps have always been a lunchbox staple but try and swap out crisps on a few days for healthier alternatives like popcorn and rice cakes.
Above all variety is key! It will keep your little ones engaged with healthy food and excited at what’s coming next. Check out our recipes for some inspiration.
Find out more lunchbox tips at nhs.uk/change4life
Healthy Kids’ Bento Box
Kids will love this cute Japanese-inspired packed lunch that’s both nutritious and colourful.
Makes one lunch box
Prep time: 20 minutes
• 2-inch length of Cucumber
• Small handful Cherry Tomatoes
• 100g cooked sliced Chicken Breast
• 1 tbsp Teriyaki Sauce
• Handful Watercress
• 2 tbsp mixed Nuts and Seeds
• Small handful Grapes, cut in half
• 3 Strawberries, quartered
• 50g Sushi Rice
• 1 tsp Sushi Vinegar
• 1 sheet Nori Seaweed
1. Take your rice mould and dip the main part of the mould in cold water to help prevent the rice from sticking. Pack the mould full of cooked sushi rice, making double sure that any small, detailed sections such as the ears are well packed. Take the press and dip this in cold water before using to press the rice firmly into the mould, ensuring the rice is packed tightly so that it keeps its shape once turned out. If you do not have a mould you can simply shape the rice into firm balls using wet hands.
2. Carefully turn the panda shaped rice out of the mould. Take your nori sheet and use the cutter to punch shapes out of it. Use your fingers to carefully position the pieces of nori onto the rice so that it resembles the face of a panda. Refrigerate until needed, up to 24 hours before using. Slice your cucumber into half centimetre thick round. Take your star or heart shaped cutter and cut a shape from each cucumber round. Take your sliced cooked chicken and toss in the teriyaki sauce until well coated.
3. Finally, assemble your bento box by placing the panda rice, chicken, watercress, cucumber, tomatoes and fruit into the box in a neat and tidy arrangement.
Provided by: www.watercress.co.uk
Tortilla Pan Sandwich
A quick and easy dinner but also a perfect and exciting change to the usual lunchbox.
Prep time: 20 minutes
• 2 large ripe Tomatoes
• 2 finely chopped Spring Onions
• 2 tbsp Tomato Ketchup
• 1 tsp Smoked Paprika (optional)
• 2 Tortilla Wraps
• 110g cooked pulled or sliced Ham
• 50g grated Cheddar Cheese
• 1 tbsp Vegetable Oil
1. Chop the tomatoes into small pieces and place in a bowl. Add the spring onions, ketchup and paprika, if using, and mix together.
2. Lay one wrap on a board and spread over the tomato mix, ham and cheese. Place the other wrap on top and press down gently.
3. Heat the oil in a frying pan large enough to hold the tortilla. Carefully lower the tortilla sandwich into the pan and cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes until lightly golden underneath. Carefully slide the tortilla sandwich out onto a board or plate, then tip back into the pan, uncooked side down. Cook for a further 5 minutes until golden and heated through.
4. Drain on kitchen paper, cut into wedges and serve hot sprinkled with extra grated cheese and extra ketchup to dip.
Taken from: The Quick After Work Cookbook £8.25 Eaglemoss Publishing
Tomato and Cheese Muffins
The muffins freeze beautifully and are perfect for popping in lunchboxes.
Prep time: 35 minutes
• 150g Plain Flour
• 150g Wholemeal Flour
• 1½ tsp Baking Powder
• ½ tsp Baking Soda
• ½ tsp Salt
• 1 Egg
• 250ml Milk
• 60g plain Yogurt
• 60ml Vegetable Oil
• 1 clove Garlic, crushed
• 100g Cherry Tomatoes, quartered
• 75g Feta, crumbled
• 200g Cheddar, grated
• A handful of Olives, destoned and halved
• Half a bunch of Spring Onions, chopped
• 2 tbsp mixed Seeds
1. Preheat oven to 180°c. Whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together the egg, milk, yoghurt, oil and garlic in a jug or small bowl. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir gently. Add the tomatoes, cheeses, olives and spring onions and stir again, gently, until just mixed.
2. Spoon the mixture into the muffin tin. Top each muffin with a sprinkle of mixed seeds.
3. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden and slightly coming away from the sides of the tin or muffin mould. Allow to cool a little and then carefully remove the muffins and either serve immediately or allow to cool on a wire rack.
Provided by: thetomatostall.co.uk