N’s always had hot school dinners ever since starting school. Mainly because I get home from work too late to be then making tea up to an hour later. And when he was in after school club, he had a snack meal there, which meant I wanted a decent meal in him at lunch. But over the last few years, he’s been complaining more about the school lunches, and at half term refused to eat them going forwards. So packed lunches it is.
I’d still rather he was eating a good hot lunch, but he had got to the stage of being so hungry when getting home. And he’d not been eating all the food given. I gave up the fight and agreed he could have packed lunches. On the proviso that he was the one making them, meaning easy packed lunches each school day.
N has made lunch for tennis camps, holiday camps etc for years, so as long as I get enough varied food in, he’ll be fine getting it organised.
School are also trying to reduce the amount of single use plastic brought in, so he’s also challenging himself to use none. With all the little pots and tubs I have, he’s doing pretty well so far.
Three weeks in and he’s still loving having his own choice of lunch. They’re not always really healthy (I wish he’d put more different veg in, and more fruit in general), but they’re pretty well balanced, and crammed full. I think there’s only been 1 day so far when he’s not managed to eat everything.
Luckily our school is only strict about one thing…no nuts, as they’re a nut free school. And breaktimes they have to have either fruit or veg (although I’m not sure that the yoghurt flaked fruit N takes in really fits that brief). He moans that other fruit or veg means taking tubs which isn’t so convenient for eating. But lunches he has tubs galore for everything he takes in.
It does surprise me how much he can eat…the first week I bought a watermelon on offer in our local shop. So he had a whole tub of 5 slices of watermelon. He ate them all, as well as everything else in his lunchbox.
Tips for making packed lunches hassle free
1. Be efficient
Anything to do with the school day, you need to make it run like clockwork. Streamline making lunches by have a specific time you make them. Have a set cupboard or area of the fridge which is for packed lunches so everything is easy to grab.
2. Get as much as possible ready the night before.
Anything that’s long life like crisps or cereal bars, can be put in the lunchbox the night before. You could even make sandwiches in advance and freeze them, then just remove in the morning and they’ll be defrosted by lunchtime (N refuses to do this and I’m with him, but plenty do – just watch out for not including soggy making fillings).
3. Have pick and mix stations.
If children are making their own lunches, set out tubs with different items in cupboards and the fridge. Then they can pick out one item from each box/tub (think like National Trust or other tourist location restaurants where they have 5 lunchbox items pick and mix style).
4. Use lunch boxes that keep everything separate and nude.
We like Yumbox – great for making their own grazing meals, or DIY lunchables. Or Nude lunchboxes and tubs. Small containers, and dividers for the larger sections, it means you don’t have lots of cling film or sandwich bags needed. Alternatively you could try buying or making beeswax wraps as alternatives for sandwich bags.
5. Get children making their own lunches.
Train them from a young age, or get them helping you put items in, then gradually making all of their own.
6. Try leftovers for something different
Summer is easier because you can do pasta or rice salads, with cold meats, cheese and salads. In the winter most leftovers would need heating up. But you can use thermos flasks for soup, or insulating tubs for other warmed through meals. I want to send N in with leftover macaroni cheese, but he wasn’t keen to try it warm. Just make sure the vacuum isn’t created with the warm food, and the lid makes it too hard for them to open.
7. Menu rotation
Some children have the same sandwiches every day but it’s good to switch things around. Try different bread – baguette, rolls, sandwich thins, pitta, slices. Vary the veg you include. Add crudites, breadsticks and dips. Try crackers, cheese and cold meats. Party style food options like sausage rolls, quiche, slices of frittata, pinwheels, mini pizzas.
Include something sweet too – flapjacks are good, homemade cake, biscuits, yoghurt with fruit or granola sprinkle on top, custard, rice pudding or jelly. You can use little pots with lids to make your own rather than paying the higher prices for shop bought convenient pots. You’ll also reduce the amount of packaging used.
8. Make it easy to eat
Small bitesize pieces eaten with fingers works better than having to send in a knife and fork for them to use.
Fruit and veg – try sticks of veg. For fruit, opt for fruit that lasts without browning if sliced. Melon, berries, satsumas (peel them and add to pots), or even use tinned fruit and decant into little pots – provide a spoon to eat them with.
9. Try new foods
Don’t just stick with the same thing. If they like one thing, try something similar. You never know what they’ll enjoy if they don’t get the chance to try it. If they were having school lunches, chances are children try new dishes, so why should a packed lunch be any different.
10. Keep items cold
Use a little ice pack, or even add a frozen frube or drink carton, which by lunchtime should have melted to liquid again, but will help keep the rest of the lunchbox chilled. Don’t forget to put the tubs and containers in a lunchbox coolbag.
11. Make sure the lunchbox is emptied daily.
You don’t want to find mould at the end of school holidays when you need to reuse it again. (I find this is the bit I struggle to get N to do. He will always leave it til the morning, which is ridiculous because it’ll be wet and need drying, rather than it drying overnight).
12. Use good quality lunchbox and containers to reduce the waste used.
Do make sure you label everything if your child is unlikely to spread their containers around and risk losing them to other children who’ve picked them up by accident.
Our recommendations for tubs and pots we like include:
- Sistema bento box
- Sistema Yoghurt or little bites tubs
- Smash Nude food movers lunch box with removable containers – we have this with a keep cold neoprene cover (we like this camo option in the US)
- Yumbox – bento style boxes, they’re sealed so even yoghurt or a dip can be included, but won’t leak into the other sections. Yes, they’re pricy, but we’ve had ours since N was in nursery, and it’s still working perfectly.
- For hot food, try one of these stacking thermos style systems. I have one in burgundy (minus the cover), and really want to try something warm in it for N
- Small ice pack
Hopefully these tips will help make the chore of packed lunches seem easier and less hassle to do.
How do you do packed lunches for your children?
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