Just when many parents are putting the lunchboxes away for the summer, most of us will be sending the children to summer school, so the packed lunch saga will just continue. After a scholastic year of packing lunches we are hardly motivated or inspired, but it’s all worth it to have the kids somewhere fun while we work, or to give them some activities and routine that they need in the summer.
Packing lunches in summer is the same as the rest of the year really, but here are some tips and ideas to keep in mind and to give you some inspiration:
1. Get your kids involved
Ask them what favourite foods they would like to have, and if possible, get them to help you pack the lunch the day before. The more you get them involved, the more likely they will eat the food! Check how much time they get to eat lunch. If they only have 10 minutes for lunch by the time they sit down, then you need to think of quick foods like crackers and cheese, fruit smoothies and small portions that are easily eaten. See what you can prepare ahead eg prepare in advance a smoothie or fruit / yoghurt pouch for 2 consecutive days.
2. Keep it simple and interesting
In the heat of summer, you don't need to give a heavy lunch. Bread, pasta /rice salad and wraps would generally be preferred to leftover bake or roast. Add more fresh fruit and veg and keep it light and simple. Make simple swaps: Instead of a pie, opt for quiche, swap wintery soups and muffins for a small brownie and a fruit. If sending smoothies or yoghurt, serve them in a food pouch which might make it easier and quicker to eat. When offering variety, keep portion sizes small and colourful. For example, a sprig of grapes, few carrot/celery sticks, a small container of dip. Include juicy fruits and vegetables which besides being refreshing will contribute to hydration. Avoid treats which can get melty and messy such as chocolates.
3. Choose the right lunchbox
If you think that lunches get beaten up during the year, this will happen even more in summer, without proper lockers and classrooms. Choose a good quality durable lunchbox which will avoid the food getting bruised and squished. A good air tight lunchbox will also allow you can pack the lunch from the day before and store it in the fridge until the next day. Bento style lunchboxes, which the child can open and view all the food laid out in sections, is a great choice all year round but especially in summer.
4. Keep it Cool
Use an insulated lunchbag to make sure the food remains fresh until it is eaten. No one wants a warm sandwich and melted food. Harmful bacteria can multiply rapidly in warm temperatures and this will cause a gastric upset or worse still, food poisoning. So it's very important that the food is kept in the 'safe' temperature zone for as long as possible. Include more than one ice pack (or ice pack + frozen bottle of water) to maximize the insulated effect. A good idea is also to keep the lunchbag in the fridge from the night before so that it starts the day cold.
5. Include lots of water
Kids might spend a lot of time out in the heat when they are at summer school. Make sure they stay hydrated with plenty of water. Water is the healthiest way to keep kids hydrated. I like to send my daughter with 2 water bottles, one of them insulated and the other with lots of ice cubes. You could also include a small natural juice pack for something tasty and some extra sugar for them to burn, or else add some sliced oranges to the water. Try and avoid giving milk, and if you do, make sure it is very cold and packed in an insulated bottle
6. Label all items
In some summer schools the children might not be confined to one room, and they might not be with familiar faces when they first start. Labeling all belongings will reduce the chance of items getting lost. By all means teach your child to be responsible for their stuff, but still label lunchbox, napkin, bottles and bag to be on the safe side.
7. Read and follow the rules
Finally, always check with the summer camp or summer school about any regulations in place, and make sure you respect those rules. The rules are in place to keep all of the children safe and healthy while they are there. This could include food rules like not allowing nuts and other foods, and safety rules especially due to COVID restrictions.
Ideas for foods to pack:
Vegetable /tofu salad
Tuna salad or tuna sandwich
Cold pasta salad
Avocado bacon cheese wrap
Quinoa or couscous Salad
Nut free oatmeal bars
Yogurt tubes/ pouches
Dates or dried fruit
Dip and crackers
Notes: if you are packing meat, poultry, fish, rice, dairy products and egg (including foods containing these) make sure you add some extra ice pack and make sure the food is properly insulated since these foods are more prone to bacteria growth