According to conventional wisdom on the matter (not mine, might I add), lunch is an important meal for children and should provide at least one third of their daily nutrients to help them grow, learn and play. One third of their daily nutrients? Wow. And bearing in mind that this ‘third’ has to be squashed into a plastic container, has to survive for several hours next to a school radiator and has to then be eaten by the child without a nagging parent reminding them to eat the crusts and to not pick the cucumber out.
Packing a nutritional lunch box sounds like a relatively simple task. It is, in theory. It’s just the practical part which I seem to fail on. Despite my devout promises the previous night that I'll do something different the next day, standing in the kitchen at 7am, half-dressed and half-asleep, all I seem to be able to manage is the same old boring cheese sandwich, something made of yoghurt, and some shrivelled-up grapes.
It’s not that I don’t try. I do. In the novelty of those first ‘Back to School’ days, I use cookie cutters to make dinosaur-shaped sandwiches. I slice strawberries and put them into little pots. I chop up carrot sticks and provide dips. I pop popcorn for a treat on Friday. But regardless of all my fussing and faffing, the lunchboxes will inevitably come home with about as much food in them (sometimes more) as they left home with. Tough though it is to admit, come the third week of September, I will inevitably have reverted to the old reliables.
But I have promised myself that this year will be different. With a bit of planning and organisation at the supermarket, I might – just might - be able to add some elements of surprise, which actually get eaten. So, some inspiration:
- Bread - granary, wholegrain, fruit or seed breads, bagels, wraps and pittas instead of sliced white.
- Filling - shredded chicken, turkey, cold meat from last night’s dinner or peanut butter. Fish and eggs are great but should probably be sent with an apology to the teacher.
- Pasta is a great, healthy alternative to a sandwich.
- Fruit – try dried fruits. Dried mango is delicious (although it looks awful). Veg sticks are great too.
- Drink – water with a twist of fresh lemon or orange for a change. Freeze overnight in the bottle so it’s still chilled by lunchtime.
Of course, whatever we give our kids in the lunch box, they always come home looking for a snack. Top tip: be prepared, and avoid the quick-fix biscuit or sugary ‘treat’.
- Keep a tub of freshly sliced fruit in the fridge.
- Pop your own popcorn but don’t add salt.
- Make a batch of soup and serve in a mug.
- Whizz up a smoothie (freeze leftovers in lolly moulds).
With some great offers on Back to School food items at Tesco at the moment, such as two for €2.50 on bread items and three for €3 on selected fruit, maybe we can all inject a little enthusiasm into our lunch boxes this term!
For healthy eating ideas and inspiration, check out these Tesco 'Real Food' links for more lunch box and back to school family meal ideas.
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