Making packed lunches helps to save money and means you know you have food that your child likes. However, it’s not always easy to come up with new ideas or to keep their lunches balanced and healthy. Here are some tips and ideas to help you keep their food interesting whilst they are out and about.
What makes a healthy lunch?
Each meal should include: fruit and vegetables; a protein such as cheese, chicken or fish; and a carbohydrate like bread, rice, pasta and potatoes.
- Use a variety of bread types – You could try giving bread rolls, bagels, wraps and pitta bread. Try different kinds to keep things interesting.
- Use lean meat and fish – Tuna, salmon, chicken and turkey are healthy options to offer.
- Avoid giving crisps - A whole bag of crisps is too big for a small child and offers little in the way of nutrients. If you really want to give them some, put a few in a box so it’s not a whole bag. You can put a clip on the bag to give them the rest another day.
- Drink water - For a drink, offer your child some water. If you want to offer them fruit juice, don’t do it every day – fruit juices have a lot of sugar in them, and even if it is natural sugar, it can still harm their teeth. Also avoid giving sodas and squash.
- Fruit and vegetables in every meal - Aim to give children fruit and vegetables in their packed lunch. You can mix it up with strips of pepper, peas, carrot and cucumber sticks and cherry tomatoes. Give them fruit for dessert such as bananas, peeled orange segments, peaches, strawberries and grapes (make sure you cut them up very small to avoid choking). A squeeze of lemon or lime on prepared fruit will prevent it from turning brown before lunchtime.
Making lunchboxes fun
If your child is going to school or nursery for the first time you can create a sense of familiarity for them in their packed lunch.
- You could buy them a lunchbox with a picture of one of their favourite TV characters on it to help them recognise which one is theirs. Also don’t forget to write their name on it.
- Buy an ice pack to pop in the box or bag to keep the lunch fresh and cool. You can get small ones with fun pictures on them.
- Add a note in your child’s lunch – you can write them a message or draw them a little picture as a surprise.
- Try something new! Occasionally add in something they haven’t tried before - they might enjoy it. Sometimes children are more adventurous with their eating when their parents aren’t there to watch.
- Get them involved. If you have time, let your little one help prepare their lunch, or part of it. They could fetch things from the fridge or cupboards and help put food into their box or bag. Speak to them about which bits they are most looking forward to eating.
Ideas for lunches
Use these suggestions as inspiration. Substitute ingredients if you don’t think your child will like some of it. The aim is to get them eating a variety of foods and colours and textures to help them grow into varied, healthy eaters. Bring along their favourite fruit for dessert. Remember to cut it up for them.
If you are out with your child, have the same lunch as them; it helps children to be open about new tastes if they see their grown-up enjoying it too – and it’s easier to make one lunch not two! Don’t forget, you can use leftovers to make great picnics so don’t feel you have to cook everything from scratch. Enjoy eating with your family outdoors!
Cheese, pasta, basil salad
- Cook some pasta and let it go cold (you could use some leftovers from the day before). You could stir in some pesto to the pasta if they like that.
- Add some chopped vegetables cut up really small e.g. red or yellow peppers, cherry tomatoes.
- Add some grated cheese or add it in tiny cubes.
- Cut up a few basil leaves to sprinkle on the top.
- Serve with shredded lettuce on the side.
Funny-shaped sandwiches and popcorn
- Make their favourite sandwiches. Remember to include some salad such as spinach leaves, lettuce or cucumber.
- Use a cookie cutter to cut the sandwiches into interesting shapes e.g. a gingerbread-man shape or a heart or star shape. This makes the sandwiches look more fun and more likely to be eaten. However, it can be wasteful to throw away the edges of the sandwich – bring those in a separate container in case they are still hungry.
- Cook some plain popcorn to have on the side. A little goes a long way when you make it yourself!
Chicken couscous and vegetables
- Cook up some couscous as per the packet instructions.
- Once cool, add in some vegetables cut into bite-sized pieces e.g. carrot, peppers, tomatoes, spinach, baby sweetcorn.
- Add some cooked cooled chicken on top – it’s great if you have some leftover from the night before to save on food preparation time. You can add pulses such as cooked kidney beans or lentils instead if you prefer.
Tuna wrap with salad
- Mix up some tinned tuna with mayonnaise or crème fraiche.
- Lay out a wrap and put some of the tuna mix on it.
- Add some cucumber and/or peppers and lettuce.
- Roll it up, tucking the bottom in beneath to make a bottom for the wrap.
- If you think your child is too young to be able to hold a wrap closed whilst they eat it, you could use a pitta bread instead or a bread roll.
Dips and sticks
- Make or buy some dips that your child might like. Good examples are hummous or cream cheese. (Check that no one has a sesame allergy if you are using hummous.)
- Cut up some sticks to dip in them – these could be strips of pepper, cucumber, pitta bread or bread sticks.
- Then dip them in and eat! Children will enjoy dipping and munching – this is a great recipe for involving them in their food as it gives them something active to do.
Finally, don’t stress and keep trying different ideas out until you find something they love. Have some fun eating away from home!
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