Lunchboxes – Keeping the pressure off and the nutrition in! Here I discuss easy tips for healthy lunchboxes for the kids return to school!
The biggest relief I had was when I realised that lunch only constitutes about 20% of your child’s total daily nutrition! This should always be in the back of your mind when you are fraught with stress trying to dream up inspired and novel lunches for your little one! Keeping up with Insta life and lunchbox goals is a challenge you really just DO NOT have to accept!!
I’m not saying to put zero effort into a lunchbox meal, what I am saying is that the most important thing is that it gets eaten and enjoyed by your child, to provide them with energy to allow them to learn, play and enjoy their day!
First thing is first!
- Make sure your child is able to open their lunch box and any wrapping you put in it.
- Let your child pick or decorate their lunchbox so that it is an item which is special and cherished.
- Make sure their drink bottle does not leak.
- Let them practice opening any food containers you put in before they bring it to school.
- Stick to your schools policy in relation to avoiding things like peanut butter or other potential allergens.
- Make sure your child’s lunchbox is one that is easily cleaned and easily stored in your fridge if you pack it the night before.
- Cut back on wrapping like clingfilm or foil where possible.
Right, that’s all the boring stuff out of the way!
The most important thing I have found about making successful school lunches is to let your child be involved in the choices from the shopping stage to the packing stage! A child is a lot more likely to eat a lunch that they have been involved in preparing! Obviously if left to their own devices a child would choose to have Haribo, marshmallows and buttons for lunch so a few ground rules are needed and the choices your child gets to make should be between which healthy foods you include. Don’t fret if your child is choosing the same lunch every single day for a few weeks – they won’t actually turn into a cheese sandwich – and eventually they will get bored and will become more open to variety! I have a rule that new foods have to be tried regularly, for example, my six year old “hated cucumber” but instead of avoiding it all together I would pack his lunchbox full of foods or fruits he did like and add two fingers of cucumber every day for a few weeks. Eventually the cucumber started to disappear too and now its a staple part of his diet! Obviously that doesn’t always work and children are entitled to have likes and dislikes just the same as grown ups do, but in a lot of cases its a mental barrier rather than a genuine dislike for a food and so gently offering it frequently without pressure to eat it, can be really useful. I have another child who absolutely hates peppers, She has tried them on numerous occasions and as a mammy I just can tell she really dislikes them, so that’s fine, I give her an alternative like tomatoes or cucumbers – once she chooses a salad I’m happy! My basic rule, which just makes life easier and helps to ensure a good balance of healthy food is eaten is that they each choose one ‘main lunch’ like a sandwich or pasta etc, one or two fruits and one or two salads. New foods can be tried out at dinner times or as snacks at home, keep pressure low – not everyone like smashed avocadoes on toast 😉
General tips and structure for a packed lunch!
- Get a lunch box with different compartments. In each compartment, provide a different type of food, as this will help to promote variety and balance.
- One section can be a ‘main lunch’ section which should include some slow release carbohydrates. Allow your child to choose between different types of bread (regular, wraps, pittas, bagels, wholemeal rolls, crackers etc). Allow them a choice of the fillings from cheese to ham, to chicken, to egg mayo or tuna etc. I won’t lie I have one fella who ate nothing but jam sandwiches last year but he demolished his fruit and salad sections too so all I could do was choose a low sugar jam and be grateful he was eating mostly balance options! Instead of bread alternatives like pasta, filled tortillas or cooked rice can be offered. Pasta and rice can be left over from the night before and eater cold as a salad – very handy!
- Another section can be used for fruit – this is a great area to let your child be involved in! Let them help you shop and empower them by listening to their choices between things like blueberries, sliced apples, raspberries, chunks of melon, blackberries, orange segments or grapes etc. I allow choice in relation to which fruit, but fruit there has to be!
- Another section can be used for salads. This is where I find them more fussy but I give a choice between sliced peppers (they choose the colour!), cucumber (slices or fingers), sliced raw carrots, cherry tomatoes etc. I have always given them the option to include a little section of humous but none of mine are fans! Its not expensive to have a couple of options of fresh salads to hand and varying these sections can keep things interesting!
- In addition to these I will often throw in a further cheese portion depending on what sandwich fillings they have chosen – sometimes babybel, sometimes (dare I say it!) a cheese string! They also like to choose spreadable cheese triangles if they have chosen crackers or crispbread in their main section!
The key thing to remember is that there are some battles worth fighting, and there are some that are simply not! If your child eats well for you at home and gets sufficient fruit and veg in during other times of the day, in snacks or dinner, then you can afford to relax a little about what they eat for lunch! The priority here is to realise that the most important thing is that they eat well, and have energy for their school day and play. They may go through long phases of the same lunches where you wonder how on earth they are not bored, but if they are happy and eating well otherwise then just go with the flow! I insisted on being reared on easi-singles cheese slices which I recall not tasting much like cheese at all – so we have come a long way in terms of our lunchbox provisions!
Hydration is very important, nothing stresses me more than when one of the kids comes home with a completely full water bottle! Encourage your child to drink water with their meal. I am no saint, but I do not allow them to bring fruit juice or squash in their bottles to school. We save fruit juice for a treat or a reward for good behaviour, and I would encourage parents starting out on their school lunch box journeys to do the same. Fruit juice is best to have with meals and so removing it from the school bag is an easy way to ensure stable sugar levels at school.
You don’t need to be able to compete in Masterchef to provide a healthy balanced lunchbox for your child. Instagram and other social media spaces can make us feel inadequate and unadventurous when it comes to how good a lunchbox should look – I just want to say that keeping it simple is a less stressful and equally beneficial way to provide your child with a well rounded diet, and you can still empower and encourage them by involving them in the process of planning and preparing food.
Allow your child choices within a certain set of ground rules like I do above and you will find them engaged and less likely to bring home a half picked lunchbox. And also remember that you are feeding them two other meals and no doubt multiple different snacks on any given day and so their opportunity to get balance and nutrition is not limited to the success of their lunchbox!