Back to School 101: Healthy Lunchbox Tips

January 29, 2020

Back to School 101: Healthy Lunchbox Tips

Whether you’re a mum, dad, grandparent or carer (or perhaps a kid yourself), my aim is to inspire you and the family to enjoy healthy recipes to supercharge ALL your lives.

Being a mum and step-mum, it’s that time again when you're getting ready to send the kids back to school, which means for me and many parents and caregivers...busy schedules and challenging lunchbox fixing!

If you’re looking to supercharge your child's lunchbox and get creative I'd love to share some of my simple tips, that have really made life easier in the kitchen.

Being an ex English teacher, I've really seen the impact that nutritious meals can have on students, a nutritious lunch can really make a big difference to their mental clarity, focus and behaviour in the classroom.

When it comes to packing and presenting lunchboxes that your kids will enjoy and devour, much of the battle will be in communication and variety. Unfortunately, taking the “You’ll get what you’re given” approach that many older generations may have experienced, is a sure-fire way to ensure that kids are removed from a relational experience of food.

What we're all aiming for is a place where children are able to freely and creatively engage in the process of making healthy food choices, and learn how to take responsibility for what they're eating. By opening up a relevant two-way conversation about the importance of eating real foods, and giving them the opportunity to make some choices about what they may be able to have in their lunchbox, will more likely result in an empty container on their return home from school.

Some of the things I've figured out along the way are:

Let your child be involved in the purchasing of their lunchbox, make sure it's sturdy with a strong lid, insulated or comes with an ice pack... no parent likes to find a black mushy banana on the return trip home!. If they choose one that they love, they won’t mind toting it around, hey you can never be too cool for school! If you’re using plastic then BPA free makes a good choice too.

Choose a lunch box with separate pockets or sections and make sure it is large enough to hold a flask or drink bottle.  Using smaller lidded containers will protect the lunchbox and its contents and alleviate the need for foil and cling wrap. They're useful for dips, salads, fruit, wraps and casseroles.

When attempting to expose your kids to new, more nutrient-dense real foods, it’s a no brainer that a dull, monochromatic spread of food is unlikely to entice their taste buds. Not only do we eat with our mouths, but first and foremost with our eyes; so presenting a visually appealing, colourful lunchbox is a must.

A nutritionally balanced lunch box should contain an array of food from various food groups. Avoid a mid-afternoon dive by including plant-based treats like fresh juice or smoothies, chopped up veggies and hummus and seeds, smash up blueberries and strawberries instead of jelly and sugar-rich jams.

Use different types of fruits and vegetables, seeds, coconut flakes, full-fat calcium-rich dairy foods, protein-rich foods such as meats, eggs, seed butters, pulses and tuna and oily fish.

If your child is gluten free, there are a bunch of really healthy bread options in my book Supercharged Food for Kids or the eBook version here, things like wraps, breads and tortillas which will be a good source of long term energy. 

Here’s a Supercharged Tip: Make a “rainbow salad” with different coloured ingredients such as purple cabbage, red tomatoes, green snow peas, orange carrot and yellow capsicum.

There are a few simple swap outs you can make that will improve your child’s diet enormously. If you’re in doubt remember to try and choose whole foods, which are as close to their natural state as possible. 

Eating seasonal fruit and vegetables that are in abundance will be less of a strain on the purse strings. Buy dried beans they are more economical than canned. Swap margarine for real butter, use full-fat dairy in place of low fat, which is often compensated with sugar and additives, choose real cheese instead of plastic cheese slices, try and choose organic meats where possible. Major supermarkets now carry very affordable organic meat.

Using real food will teach your child to appreciate food’s natural flavours and develop an understanding of what real food actually tastes like.  If you can, skip the sugar-filled, artificially flavoured yoghurts in the supermarket and instead opt for full cream plain yoghurt with mixed fresh berries in a fun container with an animal-shaped spoon.

You can make chocolate yoghurt with cacao powder and a touch of natural sweetener, or avocado and chocolate mousse using an avocado, a banana, two tablespoons of cacao powder and sweetener of your choice. Adding Chia seeds to yoghurt, which are flavourless will provide sustenance as well as essential protein, calcium, vitamin C, iron, potassium and Omega 3 essential fatty acids. You can add seeds to nibble mixes too, along with coconut flakes, Vitamin c rich goji berries and dehydrated fruit.

Making kids lunches interactive and less soggy is also important. Separate dry and wet ingredients such as dressings, sauces, spreads and slices of tomato for crackers and sandwiches in mini containers, and let them engage in some of the construction of the food.

Mix up textures of smooth yogurt with crunchy pumpkin seeds, or gluten free sandwiches with contrasting fillings of creamy avocado, “hairy” sprouts crunchy slithers of celery with a homemade mayo.

Soups can be frozen in single portions and then heated and placed in a thermos for lunchbox use. Incorporate leftovers into lunch the next day.  Grains, meats, vegetables, eggs and undressed salads make excellent additions to a lunchbox.

When it comes to drinks, rather than providing a reconstituted fruit juice, why not try a “green monster”, blending green veggies such as spinach, celery and cucumber with apple, pear and lemon juice for an exciting, eye-catching addition or try a green slushie. If you child doesn't like anything green, then flasks of chocolate milk can be made at home with rice or oat milk or banana smoothies help them feel full for longer too.

My favourite smoothie to make for the kids is a Very Berry Shake. It's also a good one when you need breakfast on the run. This shake will provide ample energy when time is short.

Always remember to encourage your child to drink water, it hydrates, regulates body temperature, and helps prevent constipation and urinary tract infections. It is also important for your child’s oral health, their immune system, digestion and weight management.  Make it fun for them and give them a straw, add some ice and squeeze fresh lemon in to or a mint leaf give it a hint of flavour. You could even drop a couple of frozen berries in.

Investing in a water filter is preferable to tap water. If you’re still having trouble getting your child to drink more water set a pee challenge! The lighter the pee the better.

Here’s a Supercharged Tip: Keep pre-cut sticks of celery, carrot, cucumber, and capsicum in the fridge for incredibly quick last minute snacks or as a colourful addition to lunch boxes.

For healthy lunch boxes, it’s a good idea to always keep a variety of fresh fruit and veggies in stock. Having raw fruit and veg that can be simply cut up is the easiest way to ensure that kids are snacking on fresh, nutrient-rich foods.

And for a delicious after school snack that the kids will love, why not try my Chocolate Popsicles, they're a big hit at home (even with the adults!)

Chocolate popsicles

Makes 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 bananas
  • 65 g (214 oz/14 cup) nut butter
  • 60 ml (2 fl oz/14 cup) coconut milk or coconut water
  • 2 tablespoons cacao powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon honey or sweetener of choice
  • 4 iceblock (popsicle/ice lolly) moulds and sticks

Method:

  • Whizz all the ingredients in a food processor to combine.
  • Pour into the ice block moulds and add the sticks, then freeze until set.

For more healthy and kid-friendly recipes check out my Supercharged Food for Kids book here or the ebook version here.




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