Are kids tired of soggy sandwiches, or do they refuse to eat anything other than chocolate spread? Preparing healthy packed lunches that kids actually want to eat can be a real struggle, but with some clever preparation and fun presentation, it is achievable! Jane Rylands, from family-focused kitchen appliance manufacturer Belling, gives us her top tips for healthier school lunches.
A healthy, balanced meal will give your children the energy they need to perform well in school, and can also help them to form healthy food habits that will be with them for life. But no parent wants to take their child’s lunchbox out of their school bag only to find they’ve barely touched their lovingly prepared heathy meal, so it’s essential that your meals appeal to little ones’ (often fussy) taste buds. Here, I’ll give you some tips on how to create healthier lunches that will have your kids asking for more.
Get the balance right
A healthy packed lunch for a school-age child should contain a good mix of all four food groups. According to the NHS, a balanced meal should contain roughly:
One third carbohydrates: Active kids need energy from carbohydrates, such as bread, potatoes, pasta, and rice. Complex carbs contain more fibre and will keep your kids fuller for longer, so always prioritise wholegrain options where you can!
One third fruit and veg: Fruits and vegetables provide the fibre needed for healthy digestion, and they also contain a multitude of vital vitamins and minerals that growing kids need to stay healthy. They can be cooked, raw, dried, or canned: as long as your kids are getting their five-a-day, you can’t really go wrong.
One sixth protein: Protein builds muscle and helps the body to repair itself. Lean meats, fish, poultry, and eggs are all great sources of protein, but don’t overlook veggie sources, like beans or legumes, too.
One sixth dairy: A small portion of dairy — such as cheese, milk, or yoghurt — will provide calcium, which helps build strong, healthy bones. You can also include a few vegan alternatives, like beans, pulses, or soy milk yoghurt.
Go for easy swaps and substitutes
Often the simplest way to give your child’s school lunches a healthy overhaul is to substitute their old favourites for something similar, but a little more nutritious. For instance, you can swap out refined carbohydrates for wholegrain options, or sugary yoghurts for Greek yoghurt with fresh berries.
If your kids are used to enjoying a sweet treat with their lunch, they might not be to happy to go cold turkey right away, so swap junk food for a dessert that’s lower in sugar, fat, and salt. Popcorn makes a great substitute for crisps, while chocolate-dipped fruit is a better alternative to sweets and still counts towards their five-a-day.
Make it fun
A bit of fun presentation can go a long way, especially if your kids can be a bit reluctant to try something new. So, take the time to make your packed lunches look as good as they taste: you could try drawing cute faces on food with an edible marker, or using cookie cutters to create fun shapes with sandwiches or fruit. Small silicone cupcake cases make great containers for nuts, berries, or other loose items that you want to keep separate, and they’re easy for little hands to hold, too.
Simplify your life by prepping in bulk
For your own sanity, it’s much easier to prep your children’s lunches ahead of time so you’re not always in a rush before the school run. Plus, if you have a few nutritious lunches ready at the start of the week, you’re much less likely to reach for unhealthy options later on when the fridge is looking bare or things are getting a bit hectic. Set aside an hour or so on Sunday nights and get your meals ready for the week — this method also gives you an opportunity to get the kids involved in making their own lunches.
Think of recipes and ingredients you can make in bulk, like pasta salads, breakfast muffins, or boiled eggs, and then mix and match them to create a variety of different options. Frittatas are also a great one to prep in bulk: make a whole frittata and slice it into portions for the week. Remember to throw in lots of chopped veggies to help towards their five-a-day. You can also chop a few veggies — like celery, carrots, or peppers — and store them in an airtight container to use as crudités.
Variety keeps things exciting
Ever wonder why your child suddenly declares that they no longer like a food they used to love? Chances are, they’re just getting a little fed up with it and are craving a change. Variety will keep your packed lunches exciting, so rotate your menu and make sure they aren’t just eating exactly the same thing two days in a row — unless one lunch is such a hit that they ask for it again, of course!