Your back-to-school guide
We have lunchbox tips and advice for preparing to send the kids back to school for a new year.
The end of school holidays is fast approaching so it's time to dig out those lunchboxes and prepare for another year of school lunches. Before you groan in anticipation, think of these positives: no more hungry or bored kids loitering around the pantry and fridge; a kitchen bench that stays dish- and food-free for at least a few hours; and at least six kid-feeding-free hours each day!
There's just one word which will ensure you enjoy this year's round of school lunches – planning. These handy tips and checklists will help you and your kids to be super-organised and ready to take on the world – or at least the lunchbox – with minimum stress.
Checklist: Things to do
Talk to your children. Ask them which foods they liked last year and why. Remind them that as they grow up their tastes will change, so they may be ready to try some new foods this year. Make a few suggestions and also ask them for ideas on what they may like to try this year.
Go shopping together for lunchboxes and new foods. Choose lunchboxes with compartments for easy, no- wrapping packing. Choose an insulated lunchbox or buy a freezer block to pop in the lunchbox to keep high-risk food cold. Tupperware has a compartmentalised lunchbox – great for schools with a no litter/packaging policy. They also replace broken lunchboxes.
Sit down together and plan a few lunches. Children are more likely to eat what they have planned themselves, but most of them still need some adult guidance to ensure lunch is not just treat foods. Use our 'In the lunchbox' checklist (see below) to ensure your children get a good balance.
Remind your children about food safety basics such as washing hands before eating and after using the toilet. Chat about how bugs like some foods more than others (see 'In the lunchbox' checklist, Is it safe? below), and which foods are the ones to eat first before bugs start growing. Explain how bugs love warm, moist homes and are less likely to grow in food which is kept hot or cold.
Try out potential new foods – at home. Make the filled roll, cut up that new fruit and test it at home before you put it in their lunchbox. Food tastes great when it's freshly made but often fails the lunchbox drop-kick and sun-baked test! Sometimes, it's not the food that's a problem, but what friends think of the food. If friends have more conservative tastes, your children may not want to take hummus or feta to school. That's okay – they can enjoy these more 'exotic' foods at home.
Checklist: Things to have on hand
- drink bottles
- sealable, mini plastic bags – great for dried fruit, nuts and small snacks
- mini plastic containers
- plastic wrap
- greaseproof paper
- fun stickers to seal sandwich wrapping
- bread or rolls in the freezer
- a few packet foods for those disorganised mornings.
Checklist: In the lunchbox
Is it enough? Check if you have something from each of these groups:
- Energy food such as bread, crackers, rice or pasta.
- Sustaining food such as cheese, milk, yoghurt, meat and hummus.
- Fresh fruit or vegetables.
- A treat. Try slightly nutritious treats such as apple, banana or carrot cake/muffin, date and walnut loaf, muesli slice or scroggin with nuts, raisins and a little dark chocolate.
- A drink.
Is it safe? Foods which are high risk include milk, cheese, yoghurt, meat, chicken, fish, hard-boiled eggs, paté, hummus or anything high in protein. If the lunch you pack has high risk foods, make sure they stay cold. Freeze overnight, pack in an insulated bag or pack with a freezer block. Pop into a resealable plastic bag or wrap in a thin cloth to absorb moisture and use as a handy wipe.
Will they eat it? The healthiest lunch in the world does no good if they don't eat it! The 'try out potential new foods – at home' exercise above may help.
Tips for sandwiches
- For still cold sandwiches at lunchtime, use frozen bread.
- If rushed in the morning, make sandwiches the night before. Wrap in foil or plastic wrap and freeze.
- When using moist fillings such as tomato or cucumber, use thickly sliced or dense bread or rolls.
- Cut younger children's sandwiches in triangles or with a cookie cutter. It makes them easier for little hands to hold and they're fun to eat! These work best with not too much filling.
- Keep bread and rolls in the freezer and pull out just what you need each day.
- Cheese crispies: Slice bread in strips. Spread with Marmite, sprinkle with cheese, and oven bake until crisp – just like a cheese and Marmite sandwich only crunchy.
- Or instead of cheese, drizzle bread with olive oil and bake at 160°C for about 15 minutes until crisp. Yummy with dips.
- What's wrong with a plain jam sandwich? Most kids love jam or honey sandwiches and would happily eat them every day. You can still make a healthy lunch with a jam sandwich. Use a more nutritious bread such as wholemeal or whole grain. Cut back on the sweet treats (that's the sandwich) and pack with some cherry tomatoes, a cube of cheese and some fresh fruit.