However enthusiastic you are about food the daily lunchbox can break even the brightest of spirits. Life as a parent is already too busy to cook elaborate lunchbox ﬁllings but that doesn’t mean they need to be dull and boring. I look to achieve just three things in my daughters’ lunchboxes: colour, freshness and simplicity. Once you focus on this ethos the daily lunchbox won’t feel like such a chore and you might even get a bit creative.
Firstly, what needs to go in your lunchbox?
1. start with carbs.
Carbohydrates such as bread or pasta should make up the back bone of the lunchbox. Don’t stress too much about this being boring or ‘samey’, children need fuel and energy to make sure they can concentrate and enjoy school or nursery. I like to add a little bit of fun by cutting sandwiches into shapes with cookie cutters as in this pink Monbento box or making cheesy quesadillas into little men (see my step-by-step in pictures below).
You’ll be amazed by how much your children will respond to something just cut, folded or arranged into a different shape and the Monbento range adds an extra element of discovery too with the different layers and boxes which my children love exploring.
2. add protein.
I aim to provide 2-3 different forms of protein per week. Make life easy though and boil eggs in advance at the weekend, use leftovers, use cured meats and ﬁsh (and remember protein can also come from pulses so hummus sprinkled with a few chickpeas also counts). I often serve hummus with the cheesy quesadilla men above and a ‘rainbow pot’ of fruit and veg to dip.)
My daughters also love leftover patties (meat, ﬁsh, veggie, whatever you have!) in ‘tacos’- just cut out a couple of small circles from a tortilla and fold them neatly into you box- top with the patties with avocado, tomato, sweetcorn + cheese (in the image below I’ve packed them with a popcorn snack and strawberry infused water in a Skiphop insulated bottle).
3. add 2-3 portions of fruit + veg.
Eating the rainbow is my number one mantra. No-one likes all fruits and vegetables but by looking to consume a variety of ‘colours’ from the rainbow you ensure that your family are getting as many vitamins and minerals into their bodies as possible.
The fruit and vegetable wheels below include my favourite lunchbox ﬁllers and on a daily basis I make sure that my daughters’ lunchboxes capture at least 2-3 ‘colours’ and that they have around 2 handfuls of fruit and vegetables.
4. and a little something extra…..
Once you’ve covered the carbohydrate, protein, fruit and veg I generally add in an extra snack which provides additional nutrients and minerals and supports one of the main food groups already discussed. Our favourites include hummus, popcorn, dried fruit, fruit smoothies (or infused water) and homemade ﬂapjacks or nut free energy balls.
With all the food groups covered all you need to do now is aid yourself with a few simple methods to help encourage your children to get involved.
Getting your children involved in the daily lunchbox not only helps you out but also makes them feel empowered in choosing what you are adding. If you don’t want them to actually choose the speciﬁc foods that go in then just let them put it in the containers or choose what ‘colours’ they want that day. My daughters love getting involved with their fortnightly pasta salad- just cook some extra pasta and drizzle with olive oil. After dinner put a variety of toppings on the table and ask them to choose 2-3 to go with their pasta. Let them sprinkle it over or put it in pots so they can assemble at school. Our favourite toppings are: tomatoes, roasted peppers, peas, leftover roasted squash, sweetcorn, broccoli, cheddar cheese and mini mozzarella but anything goes!
Children love to feel in control so try just putting the separate components of their lunch in the box and let them discover how they want to eat them together- this allows them to get involved and experiment with food. For children cautious about mixing food the Yumbox is great at separating the components but allowing them to see how they work together. The box below has all the components of a chicken + apricot couscous salad with watermelon + yoghurt drizzled with honey for dessert but by separating them out it seems less scary and enables them to identify each separate ingredient and explore it in their own time.
Children’s behaviour changes vastly in different environments so lunch boxes are a great way to expose them to new foods that they don’t normally try at home. Don’t go too far out of their comfort zone but present new foods in fun ways alongside foods they already enjoy.
Children are largely sensory driven and respond to textures, colours and shapes in different ways at different times in their development so don’t stress or take it personally if they don’t eat something at ﬁrst- its not the end of the world- try that food in a different way in a few weeks and you may be surprised by the result.
Please get in contact with any questions or even some fun lunchbox ideas!