“What shall I pack into the little one’s lunch box tomorrow?” Safe to say this is the number one question all mums dread answering. It’s easy to see why it’s our least favourite task, isn’t it? After all who likes to;
wake up extra early to cook before anyone else is up
feel the pressure to make something that is healthy, tasty AND interesting enough for your kid to eat
feel inadequate about lacking the motivation / time / inclination to re-create the fancy looking food-sculptures that we see on the internet
know that doing ALL of the above, does not guarantee that the little one will actually eat everything!
So, here are my SIX tried and tested, easy hacks to packing your child’s lunch boxes for school with as little heartburn as possible!
1.) Plan ahead. Do ahead!
Honestly, this one is the most obvious, but also the most important and hence #1. Take 15 mins on the weekend to make a lunch box schedule for the upcoming week.
The list below is what I’ve come up with for my daughter’s lunches. A printed copy on the refrigerator makes things a whole lot easier
We pick one item from each category so her lunch box is a balanced combination of complex carbs, protein, fiber and at least 1 raw fruit or veggie. A lot of food items can be prepped ahead of time and frozen or refrigerated. Pancakes, fried rice, baked pasta cups, healthy savoury muffins, meatballs etc, are all examples of food that can easily be made in advance to make weekday mornings easier to get through.
As mums, we constantly worry about whether our little one is eating enough. As a result, we pack an ambitious amount of food into our child’s lunch box. Even if your child eats larger portions at home, they might not eat the same amount at school. Kids at school have just too many distractions and little patience or care to every last bite. Over filling your child’s lunch box is counter intuitive and results in frustration for both you and your little one.
3. Easy to Eat:
To reiterate my earlier point – kids (especially ages 4-6 years) are in a highly distracting environment at school and foods that take a little longer to eat are therefore more likely to be left un-eaten as they take away from precious minutes on the trampoline or chatting with friends! Finger sandwiches, skewered grilled chicken or fish, veggie crudités, fruit sticks, pasta cups, mini pizzas etc are examples of foods that are easy for kids to pick up, eat quickly and then run off to play.
As a rule, in our home we aim to have at least 3-4 different colours on our plate and kin our lunchboxes. Children, much like us, eat with their eyes first. A lunch box with variety of colours from fruit and veggies looks friendly and appetising – not to mention, the host of beneficial nutrients that they contain! You can also make your child’s lunch box look bright and fun by using coloured containers and cutlery!
5. Test at home:
For a new dish, do a test run at home to see how the dish ‘ages’ through the course of 4-6 hours so you learn the changes that happen in taste/ texture. I realised this because, my little one who has an endless appetite for all things pasta brought home barely touched spaghetti lunch far too many times.
A chance experience of eating left over spaghetti a few weeks later made me realise that this dish had been unsuccessful so far for reasons –
One, the texture of the spaghetti after a few hours was sticky and dry as the sauce was fully absorbed. Two, spaghetti takes MUCH longer to eat than macaroni / penne.
Once I figured what the problems were, I came up with 2 ways to remedy them –
a. Use macaroni or a smaller pasta and add a few extra tablespoons of water to the sauce to keep the pasta soft and smooth OR
b. Cut up the spaghetti into smaller lengths, mix it with the sauce, pour into a muffin cup and bake with some grated cheese on top… Voila! It’s a “spaghetti muffin”, which is great to eat even at room temperature (and a lot more convenient for my active little girl!)
6. Switch things up on the menu:
Switching things up in what is otherwise routine, is fun for little ones and grownups alike. It is totally ok to deviate from the conventional concepts of what a lunch consists of. “Upside down mornings” for instance, are a very popular concept in our home and my little one has great fun swapping breakfast and lunch menus! On these special days, she eats a veggie-loaded oat porridge or rice for breakfast and eagerly looks forward to her banana& buckwheat mini pancakes, fresh berries, cheese and boiled egg for lunch!