The school lunch box
A well-packed lunch box should provide foods that sustain energy, concentration, mood and focus to ensure your children don’t end up in a cranky, hungry state come 3pm.
Focusing on sources of good quality protein, fats and carbohydrates, and a balance of all three, will provide the best opportunity to do this. The traditional lunch box with sandwich, a piece of fruit and a muesli bar is not going to tick all of these boxes. While there are clearly healthy options within this mix (the fruit being the obvious stand-out), the over-reliance on carbohydrate choices might provide calories, but they are not going to sustain the mental and physical energy required for the school day.
While you can definitely get creative with the sandwich filling (there are some awesome ideas in our sandwich collection), it is difficult to provide the most nutrient dense diet if the go-to is a sandwich five days a week, given that a sandwich doesn’t provide much room for good quality protein, fat and vegetables.
Incorporating proteins such as egg, cheese, cold meats, preservative-free jerky or bier sticks (try Canterbury brand) and full fat yoghurt will help keep children full and their mood and concentration far more even across the school day.
Nuts or nut butter as a dip with vegetables is another good choice for those who don’t attend a nut-free school and, for those that do, tahini (made from sesame seeds) or sunflower butter (from sunflower seeds) make a handy alternative.
Chopped up vegetables and fruit, cherry tomatoes, homemade guacamole or salads which are different from the standard lettuce and cucumber option (like this carrot, date, mint and seed salad) all make good additions.
Lunch box tips
- The start of a new school year, when energy and enthusiasm levels are high, is the perfect opportunity to put into place some strategies for creating lunches which are creative and interesting. But make these strategies sustainable, so that come week seven you’re not filling the lunch box with packet snack foods because you don’t have the time or energy to replicate what went into the lunch box in week two.
- Find a robust lunch box and thermos (which can keep foods cool as well as hot) so the food maintains its structural integrity. Lunch is always more appealing when it makes it to midday in one piece. Check out the bento-style options at happymumhappychild.co.nz
- Make time in the weekend to sit down with your children and choose one or two baked or cooked items they might want in their lunch box. Involving your kids in the decision making process creates a sense of ownership which might make them far more likely to eat it. Mini-frittatas, little vegetable fritters, fish cakes, muffins packed with vegetables (and little added sweeteners) and kumara or potato roasted bits, make great alternatives to the sandwich.
- Switch the sandwich bread for something else to fill – you can fit a lot more ingredients into a wrap, a pita bread or even nori sheets. Go for brands with minimal additives or preservatives. Real Food Awesome Living have just started producing wraps made from roast kumara and beetroot which can be ordered and delivered to your door if you want to buy local and are interested in good quality, low allergen brands. Find them on their Facebook page. You could also make an omelette wrap (see below) which has the added benefit of being high protein.
- Not all convenience foods are full of additives and they are handy when time is short – these include single serve cheese packets, small bags of nuts or ‘slugs’ of nut butter (for schools that allow nuts), small containers of greek yoghurt that can have seeds and a few sultanas or berries added just before eating, or single serve jerky or biltong. Rather than standing in aisle four at the supermarket asking your children what they want (and crossing your fingers it’s a nutrient-dense choice), list the choices that you would like them to eat and get them to choose from that.
- Swap the mini-packets of potato chips or crackers, which contain a lot of seasoning, industrial and processed oils and additives, for some toasted seaweed snacks or seed crackers. These are more expensive to buy but relatively easy to make yourself, as are kale chips. Potato chips will always be a welcome treat, just choose those that aren’t made with industrial vegetable oil and contain little to no additives (such as the Macro Organics range).
- Cook extra foods at dinner with lunches in mind. Freeze small bites of leftover meat that can be incorporated into mini-frittata or savoury muffins, or into a wrap.
- Prepare ingredients the night before but assemble in the morning to keep things fresh.
See our A+ lunch box collection for more lunch box ideas
Mikki Williden is a registered nutritionist and lecturer at AUT University, where she lectures in public health nutrition and sports nutrition at the School of Sport and Recreation. Read Bite articles from Mikki or visit mikkiwilliden.com for more.