Creative lunch boxes for children

Without this sounding like a thinly-veiled attack on my Mother’s botched attempts at lunch box packing, the school dinner bell was not something I looked forward to. Soggy sandwich fillings on stale bread were a staple, plus a piece of fruit and perhaps yoghurt on Fridays. I relied on a particular friend with a penchant for Twix and Kit Kats who – after bribing – offered the second half of a chocolate bar to me.

The fear of lunch box shaming from school staff causes an extra stress for busy parents. Though it may be tempting to shove a Cheese String and a fiver in the backpack, pre-packed lunch can be healthy, cheap and easy. On the other hand, if a half-eaten lunch box is returned home with ungrateful grumblings, it may be time to try a new tactic.

Fear not – there are several tricks to tantalise little learners that won’t take all evening or much planning.

Picture perfect

M-x2bento

Youngsters want everything to look good, with an eye for brands and the sleekest-looking gadgets. The same rule follows for food.

Take inspiration from the bento box. Nothing is more enticing than a spread of various edibles to mix ‘n’ match together. Bento-style lunch boxes are perfect for crackers, spreads, raw veg and treats. Swap these up each day and keep a range of dry goods handy in the cupboard. Ryvita, water biscuits and rice crackers score low on salt. Pair with a dollop of cottage cheese or an Applewood Cheddar snacking bar for a good portion of protein – Sainsbury’s also do an additive-free Kid’s Cheese Selection.

Check out Yumbox, offering an award-winning range of compartmentalised boxes in various colours – www.yumbox-uk.co.uk. For a faff-free version, head to John Lewis and grab the Sistema Lunch Cube, affordable at only £5.

Brain fuel

M-tart

Energy, energy, energy. It may sometimes feel as though kids have too much of the stuff, but without glucose they tend to get tired and stroppy quickly. Complex carbohydrates are key to keeping sugar levels balanced.
Pizza is a word that lightens up any angelic face. For Jamie Oliver and his school dinner campaigners, the sight of pizza in a lunchbox is as horrific as Turkey Twizzlers served in school canteens. Homemade pizza can be healthy, filling and fun. Think pitta pizzas made with wholegrain pitta bread, a spread of tomato purée and ample toppings of protein, grilled for a few minutes the night before. Pastry-based pizzas are something that can be made for dinner on a Monday night and refrigerated until Wednesday for the packed lunch. Adapt the following recipe and experiment with your family’s favourite flavours:

Ingredients
• Jus-Rol™ Puff Pastry Sheet
•3 tbsp Tomato puree
•2 Tomatoes, sliced
•1 green pepper sliced
•50 g cheese, grated
•1 Egg, beaten to glaze
• A few leaves rocket or basil to garnish
Directions
1.Preheat oven to 220ºC (200 ºC for fan assisted ovens) 425ºF, Gas Mark 7
2.Unroll the pastry and cut 4 equal circles.
3.Lay the pastry circles on a lined baking sheet, spread centres with tomato purée leaving a border all round each circle.
4.Arrange the sliced tomato and green pepper on top of the purée, finishing with the grated cheese (again leaving a border all round). Brush borders with beaten egg and bake for 12 – 15 minutes until the edges have risen and the cheese melted.
5.Scatter with a few rocket or basil leaves if desired.
6.Serve hot
* Taken from www.jusrol.co.uk

Pick ‘n’ mix and dips ‘n’ bits

M-snacks

Protein-packed with big boosts of energy, mixed nuts are ideal for snacking. Just a small handful can quickly add vitamins by the bucket load to a diet. Children are often averse to the dreaded peanut, so start them off with a sweet-coated alternative. Try children on Brazil nuts covered in chocolate – as dark and additive-free as possible. Cashews are also a good option, being soft and mild in flavour.

Finger food is always fun and can be the most straight forward way to get kids chomping on veg. Carrot sticks and hummus are delicious and a great source of carbohydrates. Homemade hummus is ridiculously simple, and can be made with just three ingredients plus one blender. Take a tin of chickpeas (drained), empty into a bowl alongside a big spoonful of tahini and a liberal sprinkling of salt. Blend for around 20 seconds before the mix gets too creamy – it tastes better with a little bite.
Avocados are all the rage with health-conscious adults, and can be a hit with kids when mashed into a creamy guacamole. Make a mild child-friendly version with mashed avocado, lime and salt. Pack alongside whole wheat crackers for dunking.

Dried fruit is an alternative to sugary snack and boosts an afternoon slump. Unlike many cereal brands, Nak’d Bars are 100% natural and made up of around four wholesome ingredients.

Now free your child from soggy sandwich swapping, and pack them off with a packed-lunch full of the good stuff. Hopefully these ideas have given you a little food for thought. Think outside the box and care about what’s inside the box.

Holly Nash

Holly Nash

Holly has a vague plan to follow in the footsteps of Matilda – eat Cheerios, live in libraries and make magic. She is happiest at a good pub quiz or whilst playing with clay. Fancy cocktails and silly food puns make her a little over-eggcited.

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