With all the pressure to give our children a healthy lunch, the thought of packing those lunches can be extremely daunting. Especially if your child is fussy and refuses most foods. So here are 10 steps to make packing lunches a breeze. Once you get the hang of it, it will be as easy as ordering take out! (or almost hehe)
Step 1 - Don't stress yourself!
To pack a good lunchbox, you don’t have to go overboard or create a work of art. Don’t overthink it. You know your child best so the lunch should be tailor made to the individual. Keep it real and use what you have.
Step 2 - Balance it out
Lunch box contents ideally should be varied, preferably one item from each of the food groups. Which are: Whole grains, Fruit, Vegetables, Protein and Dairy. The main part of the lunch is usually carbs (like a sandwich, pasta, rice salad...) which are preferably wholegrain, and protein (meat, fish, dairy, seeds or beans). Fruit and veg are important components to balance out the lunch. Dairy can be a portion of cheese which is helpful in reducing the acidity in the mouth after eating. You can also offer some cream cheese to dip the veg in. Yoghurt and yoghurt pouches are also handy and can act as a treat. So an easy way to make sure the lunchbox is balanced is to make a list of different items from these food groups and refer to it. If this is the part where you usually get stuck, you can check out my free list of lunchbox ideas on the shop.
Step 3 - Use a lunchbox which is convenient for you
The choice of lunchbox can make your life easier. There are many lunchboxes on the market and at Vanilla Mummy you will find a good selection to choose from
Find a lunchbox which matches the type of food you serve, which is easy to clean and easy to use. Bento-style lunchboxes such as the b.box and yumbox offer an advantage of having all the sections in one lunch box instead of having multiple containers. If you are deciding on a lunchbox you may want to ready these: Choosing the right lunchbox and Which Lunchbox.
Step 4 - Include an ice block
This is mostly important in the warm months, but it's especially important when you give dairy, rice and meats, for them to keep a good temperature and avoid build up of bacteria. Try and find ice packs which are thin and flat and can fit inside the lunch bag, such as these or these. you can find these from most supermarkets. If you don’t have them, freeze a water bottle and include it in the lunch. On hot days the ice will become water or slush by break time, which is perfect.
Step 5 - Change things around
Believe it or not, serving the same thing every day might turn the kid into a picky eater. There was a point when my daughter had such a limited list of foods in fact, that I thought if she one day decided that she didn’t want those either, then I’d have a serious problem. That is when I got serious about adding variety to her lunches. Find out what your kid likes and start with that. You can still use the same ingredients but change it around. For example, if your child's favourite is ham and cheese sandwich you can serve it in sliced bread, in a wrap, on skewers, or in a roll or bun. You can also use leftovers from the previous dinner, not just to avoid waste, but to be able to offer something different that you know your child likes.
Step 6 - Don't forget to include fruit and veg
Fruit is very important because it contains vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants. Fruit promotes good health and protects against disease, by strengthening a child's immune system. The portion size to give is the size of both the child’s hands – that is one portion. For packed lunches it is best to either use small containers, or use a lunchbox which you know can seal out the juices so that they wont leak into the bag. If the child prefers the fruit whole its even easier, like an apple, banana or clementines. The veg can be included in the main for example lettuce in the bread, or cherry tomatoes in the pasta. For picky eaters who hardly eat any veg at all, I would put in in a separate compartment. Don't worry if it isn't always eaten, exposing children to foods is the best way to get them used to accepting them.
Step 7 - Give something to drink
Water is best of course. I made it a point to get my daughter used to drinking only water. She only drinks juices on special occasions. If you have to give juice, dilute it with water, and check if it is allowed in the school. Give enough water for their school hours including traveling to and from school. I would say a minimum of 300ml in toddlers, 500ml in junior school and 700ml-1 litre in summer and in senior school. Better to carry a little extra than to not drink enough water. Insulated bottles (if allowed) will keep the water cool, alternatively, freeze the bottle half full with water and top it up in the morning. That should keep it cold until break time.
Step 8 - Accessories
Without getting too stressed about it, add some fun using accessories. You wont always have the time and energy to make a work of art but you can go for the simple things like sandwich cutters – so instead of cutting the sandwich with a knife, it will be in a shape. You can use colourful food picks and forks, not just as a decoration. My daughter prefers eating fruit with a fork rather than with her hand. And there are some children who are fussy about getting their hands sticky. They also add a little fun to the lunchbox and children appreciate this. You could also include a little note or joke. You can find ready made lunchbox notes or you can make your own. And this is something that they will cherish, and might even share with their friends.
Step 9 - Ask for your kids’ input
Include the children in the choices. Start early to teach your children the formula for setting up a lunchbox and what it should have inside it. At first you can ask questions with limited choice for example: “would you like a turkey or cheese sandwich?” or “would you like cucumber or carrots?”. Eventually they will be suggesting themselves. My daughter who is 5 can setup a lunch box quickly in her head now. I just ask her what she would like for lunch and she will tell me “sandwich, hardboiled egg, a peach and vanilla yoghurt” for example. Eventually they might even start preparing the lunches themselves. You can have a snack box in the pantry and a shelf in the fridge, where they can grab items to put in their bag. Always be careful what you include in your child’s lunch. There are National guidelines that should preferably be adhered to.
Step 10 - Find a time and space for packing lunches
Be it morning or evening, find a time which suits you best. If preparing lunches it stressful to you, plan them out a week ahead like you would plan your family dinners. Its best to have a designated area to prepare the lunches, and a cupboard or a trolley where you can put all the lunchboxes, containers and accessories that you use, so as to find them handy. I would also recommend to take photos of the lunches occasionally. Not to post them on social media, but to be able to refer to them when you blank out about what to prepare.