And so the school year begins with hundreds of lunches laid out in front of you to pack one by one. So what’s on the menu for the little tackers in 2018?
Some of you reading this article are no doubt all over this packed lunch business, prepping them like the pro you are and perhaps only keeping your eye out for a few new ideas. Others may need a mini-refresher course about the essential building blocks that make up a nutritious, balanced meal.
Note also – that though this article is aimed at parents making lunches for their kids, much of the advice holds true for adults making their own lunches – plenty of room for improvement in many an adult lunch!
So what should your kid’s ideal lunchbox look like?
Well unfortunately these days with time-poor parents and the proliferation of packaged food – it probably shouldn’t look like their mate’s sitting next to them! LCM bars, tiny teddies, juice poppers, chips, refined carbohydrates in the form of white bread or crackers and sugary muesli bars abound in lunches these days. So, it can be really hard for your child to be excited about their healthy food when they’re comparing it to that of their BFF.
Personally, I find it helpful if my kids lunches are as fun and as attractive as possible to minimise this sense of ‘losing out’ and it can take but a few extra minutes and a few simple tools like a potato peeler and a few cookie cutters. But there is also real life to get on with and it’s unrealistic to expect that you should be able to #lunchboxboss every day!
Sometimes you may have the time and motivation to spend mucking around making their lunch cutesy – and sometimes you simply don’t and would rather take the star cutter to your eyeball. Striving for perfection will only send you crazy – and that goes for both content and aesthetics!
Let’s look at what their lunchbox should (..ideally…when the stars align….) contain
Well, in a nutshell (actually…don’t put nuts in – you could kill someone) – your childs lunch should contain something from each of the following categories – not neccessarily in seperate, neat portions – they could having a party together in a frittata, muffins or some leftovers! You are limited only by your imagination, prepping time and what your child is likely to eat. Remember too that mini Thermos flasks can be great to keep leftovers piping hot and safe to consume if they won’t eat them cold.
Adjust the portion sizes noted below based on your child’s age, activity level and hunger – this is just a rough guide for an ‘average’ primary-aged child and to indicate healthy ratios of the different types of food – wild variations in absolute quantities can occur
1) DRINK – WATER
Juices and flavoured milks are unnecessary and should only appear as a ‘treat’ on a rare occasion.
One juicebox contains around 5 tsp of sugar. This is pretty much your child’s recommended daily total.
2) VEGETABLES – min one half of a std cup
- Cherry tomatoes (yes..technically a fruit..)
- Beans – green or canned
- Snow peas
- Broccoli (if your kids are hard-core!)
Basically, work with whatever your child will happily eat!
3) FRUIT – 1 medium piece, two smaller pieces or ½ cup fruit salad
- Apple, Pear, Banana, Mandarin
- Berries, grapes, kiwi
- Melon, Avocado, olives
- Again – whichever they’ll eat!
2-3 pieces of dried fruit or a small serve of sultanas is a fun alternative occasionally. It should not replace fresh fruit as an everyday option.
4) PROTEIN AND/OR DAIRY or dairy alternative – around 1/2 cup
- A few chunks of cheese
- 100g yoghurt – try to get one where sugar and protein contents are both within 5-10g/100g
- Cream cheese (eg to dip veggie sticks in)
- Boiled eggs
- Marinated tofu (try it on them…you maybe surprised)
- Tuna or smoked fish
- Meats – in their wholegrain, or wrapped around their veggies.
Processed meats really aren’t great for you or your kids – but lets face it, they’re convenient. Try to strike a balance between ‘ideal nutrition’ and functionality, mix up your proteins as much as possible.
5) GRAINS – 1-2 serves
Grain sources should be as high fibre and as with as much wholegrain content as possible. A good trick to know is that the total carbohydrate/10 <<fibre content on the label
For younger kids and/or if you are including the full range of the categories above – you often don’t need a whole sandwich – half is often sufficient.
- Wholewheat or grainy bread or wraps
- Crackers – Ryvita, vitaweat or Tucker’s wholegrain are great
- Sushi – brown rice if possible
- Leftover pasta, quinoa, cous cous or rice meals or salads can be good to change things up
Above all – remember the key division of responsibility that you need to govern the realm of nutrition with peace between you and your child:
1) Parent: Your responsibility and power is to provide what you want your children to eat and in the quantities that you’re happy for them to eat that particular food in
2) Children: Their responsibility and choice is what to eat and how much of each food they want to eat from your offerings.
If over time you notice that your children are not eating a proper balance between the food groups and consistently coming home with (typically) their veggies – try lowering the portions of the other foods so that you encourage consumption of their ‘less valued’ options – it may be a simple issue of having too much food in their lunch and that’s the last cab off the rank. Or better still ask them what veggies they’d like to see – or if there’s ways you can make it easier or more fun to eat.
Kids love having power over their food – especially as they get older – so giving them the power of choice within the options you have available or are happy to source and getting them more involved in their lunchbox shopping and preperation gives them increased ownership and tends to increase their acceptance of what’s on offer.
So I hope this gives you a bit more info to help you navigate the field of school lunches in 2018!
Below is a recap of a few of my kids lunchboxes from over the last year or two to give you a few ideas to try out on your kids this year – noting as always the disclaimer that they are not all as attractive as these ones and they’re all certainly not ‘perfect’ nutritionally!
You’ll see that they’re all presented in ‘Yumboxes’ which are a favourite of mine as they don’t leak between compartments, reduce waste and make lunches look fun. In using the Yumbox, there’s a bit of a tradeoff between taking a bit more ‘fiddly’ time to cut things down to fit compartments vs having to find a million seperate containers in the tupperware drawer, then having to wash them all – wondering on which bit of the playground were half the lids left?
Heads up! Exciting news for those of us in Townsville – These Yumboxes are now going stocked in Elle J’s boutique, Domain Central – so you can see them and the different colours/options before you buy. For those elsewhere – my favourite online shop for all things Bento is Little Bento World.
(No paid affiliation with either company – just adding info pre-empting the common question about where you can get these boxes!)