Caroline The Lunchbox Lady founded Lunchbox World back in 2009, and she’s our guru for all things lunchbox. Here, she reveals how to get past the ham sandwich blues and do something fun for your children’s lunches.
Back to school is a time of mixed emotions: the excitement of starting school for the first time or seeing old classmates again, maybe being mixed up into different classes, coupled with new beginnings and new teachers alongside the yawn of same old same old.
It’s all too easy to fall into the lunch box rut alongside everything else. Here are some easy tips to follow:
How to Avoid the Lunch Box Rut
1. Don’t pack too much
Too much in the lunch box and you will overwhelm them.
2. Keep it simple, keep it easy to eat
If they are young, make fairy bites or finger food. It helps children eat it quicker and more easily. Psychologically it seems to work. If it’s apple, cut up into pieces (Keep it from browning by putting a few drops of lemon juice in the snack box/bag), if it’s a sandwich cut it into halves or fourths.
3. Kids have limited time, before they are encouraged to go out and play
Make sure the boxes are easy to open. If the lunchbox is too difficult for small fingers to manipulate, it’ll act like a barrier. And with little Johnny or Louise saying “come and play!” they’ll be all too keen to just up and off outside with very little in their tummy. We don’t want them coming home hungry or, even worse, hangry.
4. Kids eat with their eyes first
Try to set aside time to think about presentationIf: If it looks pretty and there are lots of different textures, they’ll be more likely to eat it.
Think what goes together visually, colour wise and texture. There are a great range of compartment lunchboxes out there, so do take a look. Compartment lunchboxes have many different sections to compartmentalise the food. So instead of putting sandwiches together, you could de-construct it, put all the elements in the lunchbox, but leave it for the child to assemble. That way they think they’re in control!
Kids love dips and chopped up veg. Well mine do anyway! They love that crunch from carrots and celery or breadsticks. And dipping it in a healthy dip is a bit like chips into ketchup (although it isn’t!)
5. Pack a balanced lunch box
Try and make sure the lunch covers the essential elements for a balanced meal: protein, carbohydrates, dairy, one piece of fruit and veg, water or something to drink.
6. Try not to worry too much
This is just one meal out of three in the day. When they are at school, you are handing over control of your child, and increasingly so as they get older. All you can do is do your best with what you put together in the lunch box, but ultimately it is down to the child as to what they actually put in their mouths from the packed lunch you provide.
So in addition, try and be sure to give them a good breakfast before they head off to school and a healthy snack when home from school, finished off with a good dinner to round of the day. That way you know they have topped and tailed the day well!
7. Pack a smaller lunch first and if necessary increase the size
Obviously you have to use your best judgment for how much to pack, but do remember the size of their tummy and not to over-pack the lunch box. Older children are more likely to use up more energy running around at break times, so may need a larger lunch than perhaps a child in reception. You know your child best, but at first, if they are new to school, don’t over pack, it is a big adjustment for them, and the last thing they need is the big pressure of a big lunch to wade through, when all they want to do is play with their friends!
8. It’s all about balance
We are often asked how to transport milk to school and how to keep it fresh. For us, we have milk at breakfast and then a milkshake or smoothie when they come home from school. Mine prefer milk to be ice cold. You have to do what works best for you and your child, so as mine have so much milk throughout the day, I do not worry about milk at lunch. They have water instead. Be sure to pack in an insulated lunch bag with icepack to keep the milk chilled. You could partially freeze the milk, or send in a frozen yoghurt tube. This should be defrosted by lunch time.
Now for treats, we always put in a special treat on Friday to mark the end of the week. So when Friday comes it’s FUN FRIDAY for us. But a treat is only a treat if it is occasionally given. It’s all about the balance.
9. Swap foods in and out
Variety will help you avoid the lunch box rut. Swap foods in and mix it up. Mine love a tortilla with melted cheese, tomato and ham. Kind of like a pizza. It’s just a spin on a ham and cheese sandwich really but with a difference. So think of pitta, muffins, wraps, rolls. There are so many bread alternatives. All different shapes and sizes to help make it FUN! And remember you can freeze all of these so have a constant fresh supply of bread alternatives
10. PLAN PLAN and PLAN some more!
Finally you have to PLAN! For me it is all in the planning. If I haven’t planned the lunches, the lunch box rut re-appears. I find myself slipping back into familiar well tested lunch box ideas, and unfortunately the yawn factor returns.
I try and keep a fresh supply of celery, carrots, cucumber, tomatoes, a variety of fruit, (grapes, blueberries, apples, strawberries – whatever is in season) that can be chopped up or mixed for a splash of colour, to give them those options.
I hope this helps you to avoid the lunch box rut.
If you’ve some top tips to share, please comment and let us know!
We love hearing from you!
The Lunchbox Lady x
(The original version of this article was published September 6, 2013.)
Caroline The Lunchbox Lady founded Lunchbox World back in 2009, following an online search for a washable lunch bag for her three school-aged kids. She can be found tweeting @lunchboxworld or on her Lunchbox World Facebook page www.facebook.com/