Preparing school lunch boxes that are delicious and nutritious and will keep your little one fuelled for the whole day can be a daunting task.
So how can you break it down this year to make it easier on yourself?
KEEP IT SIMPLE:
- Keeping food simple and colourful is the first step in preparing a lunch box for your child. Don't feel you need to create a different lunch every day … parents are under so much pressure already, so aim to keep it real and keep it simple. We need to remind ourselves to take things back to basics with meat, vegetables, fruit and some nuts or seeds – nothing fancy, nothing flash. Children will soon tell you when they are bored with the same food every day.
- Don't always do sandwiches. Breaking the sandwich routine is a process, but with a little planning and by being more organised with preparation, you can put together lunch boxes filled with wholesome foods that will satisfy your child for the whole school day.
- Leftovers from dinner the night before offer a tasty alternative to a sandwich and are a great budget and timesaving option. Cook extra pasta, rice or vegetables when preparing dinner to use for lunch the next day. Extra rice can be turned into sushi or rice balls.
- Try different fruit and vegetables each day. Great options include carrot, cucumber, beans, snow peas, capsicum, cherry tomatoes, grapes and berries.
- Try to eat fruit and vegetables that are in season and grown as locally as possible. Buy from local farmers markets to support the local economy and get children involved in helping pick which fruit and vegetables they would like for the week. This is a great way for them to learn that their favourite grapes or strawberries are not always available or affordable.
While it is sometimes a challenge, involving children in making healthy food choices in younger childhood years will lead to positive food choices later in life.
HEALTHY WEEKLY MENU PLAN:
Sesame chicken kebabs with coconut chips, vegetables and fruit
Chop a chicken breast in equal sized pieces, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Cook the chicken in a frying pan for 10 minutes or bake in the oven at 160 °C for 20 minutes. Once cooked, thread a wooden skewer through the chicken pieces with diced cucumber and cherry tomatoes.
Coconut chips offer a yummy snack – sprinkle with cinnamon for a tasty treat.
(Free from grains, dairy, eggs and nuts)
Roast chicken with nut- & dairy-free pesto, vegetables, fruit, sultanas and seeds
Roast chicken legs and wings for a tasty lunch. It’s a good idea to buy chicken pieces in bulk to batch cook to keep costs down. Include a few different vegetables, either raw or lightly steamed with a bit of crunch.
The nut- and dairy-free pesto is perfect for school lunch boxes and adds some extra flavour to the chicken and vegetables. Basil can be bought in large bunches from farmers markets and dried mushrooms are available from Asian supermarkets.
Sulphur-free raisins or sultanas combined with sunflower kernels and pumpkin seeds provide a sweet treat.
- 2 large handfuls of fresh basil
- 3 large garlic cloves
- 2 large handfuls of dried mushrooms
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt
Place all ingredients in a food processor and turn on high for roughly 2 minutes until all ingredients are ground together. If the pesto is too thick, add a little more olive oil. Store any leftovers in the fridge for up to one week.
(Free from grains, dairy, eggs and nuts)
Paleo sausages with egg, banana bread muffins, vegetables and fruit
Paleo sausages are available to buy in supermarkets and some butchers and taste great with hardboiled egg.
My kids love my banana bread – being grain, dairy and nut free, it’s a paleo and allergy-friendly school lunch box snack. The recipe for the banana bread is to make a loaf but is easily adapted by cooking it in muffin tins.
(Free from grains, dairy and nuts)
- 4 ripe bananas
- 6 organic eggs
- 6 dates (dried or fresh)
- 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons of gluten-free baking powder
- 2 teaspoons of organic vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup of organic coconut flour
- 1/4 cup of chia seeds
- Heat the oven to 170 °C.
- Lightly oil a bread tin, brownie pan or muffin tray.
- Add bananas, eggs, dates, cinnamon, baking powder and vanilla to a food processor and whisk until smooth. Transfer mixture to a bowl and set aside.
- Add coconut flour and chia seeds to the wet mixture and combine well.
- Leave to rest for 30–60 minutes.
- Spoon into the baking pan and bake for 30 minutes.
- To check if it’s cooked thoroughly, push a toothpick or skewer into the middle of the bread – if it comes out clean it’s cooked, if it still has batter on it, then cook for another 10 minutes.
Cheese sandwich kebabs with vegetables, fruit and jam tart
These kebabs are fun and great to try something a little different if your little one still wants a sandwich. Lightly toast some sourdough and cut it into squares. Slice cheese, tomato and cucumber and place the tomato on kitchen roll to absorb all the juice and prevent the bread from going soggy.
Good old-fashioned jam tarts, made from my gran’s old recipe, make for a special treat. Children will love helping and cutting different shapes for the top.
- 250 grams of plain sifted flour
- 125 grams of butter, diced into cubes
- 4 tablespoons of lukewarm water
- Strawberry or blackberry jam
- Pre- heat the oven to 160 °C and prepare a muffin tray by greasing the sides.
- Into a mixing bowl add the flour and butter and rub together until it looks like fine bread crumbs.
- Slowly add the water, needing the flour and butter mixture together to make a ball.
- Roll out onto a floured work surface and use a circle cookie cutter to cut out the tart base.
- Spoon in a tablespoon of jam.
- With the remaining leftover pastry cut out shapes to place on the top of the tarts.
- Bake for 15 minutes.
- Allow to cool before serving. Store in an airtight container.
(Free from eggs and nuts)
Paleo sushi with bliss balls, vegetables and fruit
Sushi is a great way to use up the excess rice you have cooked for dinner. Leftover vegetables such as beans and carrot can be used for the sushi filling for a meat-free day. To make the sushi rolls, use a simple rolling mat which can be purchased from supermarkets. When laying out the rice the trick is to place the filling in the middle of the mat rather than near the top.
You can always use a non-grain alternative and make cauliflower sushi. Simply pulse up half a cauliflower in the food processor and fry it quickly in a little sesame seed oil and garlic with salt and pepper. It cooks very fast and is a great alternative to rice. Cauliflower rice can become a little wet so for the best result, place the cauliflower in a small mesh sieve and try to drain out any excess fluid.
Minty cacao bliss ball
- 1 cup of dried dates (preservative free)
- 1 cup of raisins (preservative free)
- 1/2 cup of sunflower seeds
- 1/4 cup of tahini
- 1 tablespoon of organic cacao
- 1/2 tea-spoon of organic pepper mint extract
- desiccated coconut for coating
- Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse on high for around 2 minutes until combined well.
- Remove from the bowl and shape into round balls.
- Roll in the coconut.
- Eat straight away or store in the fridge in an airtight container.
- Keep it simple as children like no fuss.
- Add as much colour as you can offering a visual feast for the eyes.
- Involve children with deciding what they would like in their lunch boxes and putting them together each day – they’re more likely to eat everything if they have a say in what they have to eat.
- Finger food is easier for kids to eat. Some children are grazers and like picking bits at a time.
- Don't overfill the lunch box! You will soon learn how much food your child needs by seeing if they bring any food home. Don’t worry … they won’t starve in one afternoon.
- Use a bento style lunch box to keep things organised.
- Prepare as much as you can in advance. Chop and cook food for the week and store in airtight containers in the fridge.
- Stainless steel lunchboxes are a great option as they stay cooler for longer, especially if you make lunches the night before and take the lunch boxes out of the fridge cold and ready to go in the morning. Lunch boxes can be kept cool in an insulated lunch bag with an ice brick.
For more lunch box inspo check out some extra great recipes here, or go to our back to school gallery to see what might make your life easier this year.
Victoria Forry from Litter Free Easy Lunches is a Sunshine Coast mum of four children, each with very different food tastes and very different needs. Victoria’s family started their litter-free journey 2 years ago when her child’s litter-free kindy inspired her to creating healthy, packet-free lunches for all her children.
The biggest challenge when preparing her children's lunch boxes is accommodating her 10-year-old son’s intolerances to eggs, dairy, wheat, spelt, whey and pinto beans. At the same time, her preppie only wants quick no-mess options so he can go and play quicker, Miss 12 likes to have leftovers, while Miss 2 is at day care and will eat anything.
Victoria now supports families in creating healthy lunch and meal ideas, and she is the official Sunshine Coast stockist for LunchBots stainless steel lunch boxes.
For more lunch box and family meal ideas and to browse her online store, visit www.litterfreeeasylunches.com.au.