It's that time of year again. Back to school. So very yay! Also, back to the daily challenge of coming up with interesting, nutritionally-balanced-yet-fun lunchbox ideas for kids. So very sad face.
Over the years we’ve made a thousand (give or take) lunchboxes, some of which have come back to us shunned and untouched, some completely empty. One of life’s mysteries!
We can’t ever guarantee success – the kids will still swap out the things they don’t like with their friends, and you might still find the mouldy mandarin in the bottom of the schoolbag – but here are our hints and tips on the practicalities.
Pick the right lunchbox
To make sure the food stays as fresh as possible in our Australian climate, get an insulated lunchbox. Or, better yet, a box with a freezer pack. Otherwise, adding a frozen water bottle or real juice box will do the trick. If the school’s air-conditioned and the schoolbag kept in a cool place, it’s obviously not such a drama as if it’s sitting in a sunny corridor.
We love lunchboxes with compartments. You can keep things interesting with lots of little bits to explore, rather than just one big item. This is super important for little people with little appetites, who just want to graze a couple of mouthfuls of everything. And it saves on packaging, zip-lock bags and litter, which is (rather marvellously) becoming more and more important in schools.
Bento boxes are particularly brilliant. With leakproof compartments, you can be sure all food will remain separate and delicious – no lasagne on the nectarine, no tomato sauce seeping over the grapes.
When you buy a new lunchbox, practise with your small child first to make sure they can open it easily (the right way up!) without the sort of struggle that propels fruit and yoghurt at high speed across the playground. (We are assuming once Johnny reaches high school, this shouldn’t be an issue, but, hey, sometimes we’ve been surprised!)
Keep it clean
IIt's all about hygiene. Especially because food will be stored in the lunchbox for a few hours before eating.
So, when you’re making the lunch, make sure chopping boards and utensils are scrupulously clean and that proteins are chilled. Leftovers are great for lunchboxes – just make sure they’re chilled quickly, stored safely and eaten the next day.
It’s fantastic to have a lunchbox that goes in the dishwasher. And, once you’ve found a lunchbox you love, it’s worth buying two of them so you can alternate and put one in the dishwasher overnight.
Prep the lunchboxes the night before! It's so much less painful than in the morning rush where tempers and time are short. Keep them cool in the fridge overnight. Some foods are great to pop in the lunchbox, frozen straight from the freezer in the morning. They’ll defrost slowly in the morning (and, even if they don’t, most kids see semi-frozen grapes or blueberries as a treat) and do double-duty as an ice block.
Don't forget the water! In summer, it may be worth freezing the water bottle so it stays cool until lunchtime.
What's on the menu
There are so many dishes on our menu you could pop into a lunchbox, whether it's schnitzel or lasagne leftovers, sausage rolls or chicken nuggets... Our kids (and adults!) always liked leftover spaghetti bolognese or any cold noodle or rice dishes.
For bite-sized kid-friendly options, mix and match the following:
- Sausage rolls with sneaky veg (cut them into three before baking)
- Sweet corn and haloumi fritter mix (cook into tiny mini fritters)
- Free-range panko-crumbed chicken nuggets
- Salmon, sweet potato and edamame bites
- Beef and quinoa meatballs with tomato sauce
- Pulled pork with bbq sauce in little bread rolls
- Leftover roast lamb or chicken with salad in a wrap or sandwich
- Chicken schnitzel, cut into strips, with tomato sauce for dipping
Balance it out with fruit (fresh or dried), vegie sticks, cubes of cheese and plain popcorn.
Need more inspiration? Explore our menu here.
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