Lunch boxes should not only be nutritious, tasty and filling, but fun and affordable, too.
With a bit of thought, planning and creativity, you can create a fabulous meal on the go.
If you involve the children in the shopping and preparation, they are more likely to eat what you have made together … and learn valuable, healthy eating and meal preparation skills.
The key to a healthy lunch is to choose one item from each of these food groups:
Include whole-wheat breads, pitas, wraps, English muffins, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, bagels, couscous, potatoes or noodles.
Choose lean meats, skinless poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, beans, cheese and soya. Avoid any processed meats though such as hot dogs, bologna, salami, pepperoni and poor quality cold cuts.
Vegetables or salads
Add lettuce, spinach, cucumber, tomatoes or onions to sandwiches. Pack vegetable or salad sticks such as cucumber, peppers, zucchini, carrots, celery or broccoli and include a small salsa dip, low fat sour cream or hummus.
Make a small mixed salad using a variety of vegetables.
Dairy or dairy alternatives
Choose low fat yoghurts, fromage frais or low fat puddings. Use calcium-fortified soya products if you are lactose intolerant.
Include fresh fruit such as an apple, pear, peach, orange, handful of grapes or berries, slice of melon or small banana. You can also send along fruit cups in juice or dried fruits like raisins or dried apricots.
Select water, low fat milk or a milkshake, fresh fruit juice diluted with water or non-sugary drinks.
Avoid adding lots of butter or mayo. Use small amounts of a light variety, if needed. Never add salt to children’s foods, but do use herbs and spices to add flavour.
Use leftovers or cook extra food the night before to use for lunches. Leftover pasta, rice, vegetable pizza, meats, fish or vegetables may be used for tasty and economical lunches the next day.
Keep things different
A packed lunch doesn’t have to mean the same boring sandwich every day; vary your starches and proteins.
Try pasta or rice mixed with a protein and some vegetables. Choose peanut butter and banana one day on a bagel and tuna with sweet corn and peppers stuffed in a whole-wheat pita the next.
You can also send leftover meat with salad on whole-wheat bread or chopped egg with tomato and spinach in a wrap.
When making the lunch box don’t forget to include a small snack and drink for the morning recess.
Good choices would include fresh fruit, dried fruit, plain popcorn, healthy cereal bar, a small scone (or half a large one), a slice of fruitcake (palm sized) or a handful of dry wholegrain cereal or nuts.
Make sure portions are the right size for the person who is eating the meal. A serving of most foods is roughly the size of the individual’s handful or fist. It is important not to over- or under-feed our children.
Save money and the environment by using reusable containers for foods and drinks.
Lastly, don’t forget the ice block and cool bag to keep things chilled and fresh until lunchtime. Keep stored in a fridge if possible.
You could use frozen breads, which will defrost by lunchtime and help to keep things cool and safe, or freeze drinks so they are defrosted, but chilled, and ready for recess and lunch.