It’s finally time for children and young people across the country to return to school – which for some families means a return to making packed lunches for long-suffering parents and carers!
It’s one thing though to make up a packed lunch, however, but quite another to make it something your child wants to eat again and again.
Below are some top tips from staff and parents at some of our food programmes on how to make tasty, healthy lunchboxes that liberate you from pre-packed options, suggest innovative meals that everyone will want to eat, and help you keep it fresh and inviting day after day.
Change the shape
“My little one (and sometimes my big one!) love things cut into interesting shapes. Using some special cutters (e.g. circles) is a nice way to get her involved with preparing her own food, as well as learning shape, size ordering etc. When using wraps, try cutting them into one-inch pinwheels. I’ve even seen some artistic parents create faces from the foods in their children’s packed lunch”.
Keep it fresh
“There’s nothing worse than a soggy sad-looking sandwich or bagel after a hard morning at school or a lukewarm bottle of water for that matter. Keep the packed lunch fresh by popping an ice pack into the lunchbox – or even make up the sandwich or bagel from frozen bread. By lunchtime it’ll have defrosted and be super fresh! You can also pop the water bottle in the freezer the night before and enjoy a cool drink of water over lunch”.
Make your own
“Plan the packed lunches for the week with your children before doing your ‘big shop’. You could also get them to take a look at the Change4Life website with you and suggest they pick one or two new items from the site to try. It suggests a wide range of healthy ideas for mains, fruit, salad and drinks, as well as ‘a little something else’ to keep it fresh and exciting (e.g. sugar-free jelly). And, of course, you can always get them to help you make it too…
“Try and make the lunchbox colourful and visually appealing. If you have a lunchbox with several compartments perhaps pop different colourful items in each – radishes, tomatoes, carrot, pepper or cucumber sticks, for instance. You could even use several separate boxes or resealable tubs to make it even more exciting or reuse old yoghurt pots with different veggie sticks in each”.
“We’ve found that ‘Zebra sandwiches’ were a good way to get children eating wholemeal bread. These involve cutting one slice of white bread and one slice of wholemeal bread into strips, then using them to make finger sandwiches, using first the white and then the brown bread to create a ‘zebra stripe’ effect”.
“My teenager doesn’t want what they see as a ‘boring sandwich’. But I’ve found if I ‘deconstruct’ it he’s more likely to eat it – and to enjoy his lunch. For example, instead of a cheese sandwich, I might pack all the components in different compartments – like cut up cheese, a crusty roll, slices of different coloured peppers or tomatoes”.
“We’ve found that ‘Zebra sandwiches’ were a good way to get children eating wholemeal bread.”
“I’ve started offering my nine-year-old a bit more choice regarding their packed lunch fillings. For example, I offer three salad items (e.g. lettuce, cucumber, tomato) and ask them to choose one to add to a sandwich. I also offer a choice of pasta salad or soup (just make sure you use a good flask to keep it warm for lunch!)”.
Grow your own
“This year we’ve tried to grow some fruit and veg in pots on the window sill – not always successfully – but we have also managed to grow tiny tomatoes and also (amazingly) some strawberries … which are very tasty and ideal to pop in the school lunchbox”.
“Make some healthy alternative versions of popular takeaway items such as homemade pizza, filled pitta bread, fruit kebabs or savoury muffins”.
“Perhaps have a themed week and get the children involved in making packed lunches linked to that theme – such as a Spanish or Greek lunch – and include one or two snacks in the lunchbox linked to that theme – such as a few olives, a tzatziki dip or a few feta cheese cubes, or a mini ‘tapas’ board. If they’ve helped to choose the theme and put together the snacks, they’ll be more likely to want to eat it. If you have access to the school curriculum for the year you can even consider linking the themes to the topics your child will be learning about that term”.
Make it interactive
“Some bread and veggie sticks, a small pot of a dip such as hummus or different ingredients popped in pitta sleeves can make lunchtime just that little bit more fun. Encourage young children to personalise their lunchbox or zipper bag – or even their water bottle – by drawing a picture and their name on it”.
Make them smile
“It can be hard starting ‘big school’ or returning to school after several months at home during COVID. If your child is feeling anxious think of ways of reassuring them. You could maybe write a personal note on a post-it for their lunchbox or write a short message on their banana. You could even make a funny face on their rice cake to make them smile when they open their packed lunch”.
Start a conversation
“If you’re looking for an ideal ice breaker to open conversation with the other parents in the drop-off line why not ask if they’ve got any top tips for making an inviting lunch? If that’s not quite your style or you’re feeling shy you could also ask your family and friends… It’s surprising how good some parents’ memories are!”
Show us your child’s favourite packed lunch and be in with the chance of winning a Family Art Set and Bacofoil goodies worth over £100! You can take a photo, draw a picture or even make it with crafts! Comment with your entry on Facebook and tag @ilovebacofoil for the chance to win.
Terms and conditions apply.