We are only a couple weeks into the new term but are you already bored of making your kids’ lunches? And are they already sick and tired of opening it to find a sandwich everyday? It’s so easy to get into a packed lunch rut, popping the usual suspects into a box daily. But with a little thought it doesn’t have to be this way, in fact, you can even save time in the mornings!
‘We have this very British idea that a packed lunch is a sandwich with some other bits on the side, but it’s so easy to make lunch more varied and interesting,’ says Caroline Hartley from The Happy Food Kitchen. ‘There are so many containers and lunchbags out there which can really help widen the range of meals which are portable.’
An initial investment in some kit will really help you out. ‘Thermal pots and bowls have really come on and are able to keep food warm for longer now,’ says Caroline. ‘This makes it easy to heat food like soup or pasta at breakfast time and your children can enjoy it as a warm lunch on a cold day.’ Also look out for lunch boxes with multiple sections: ‘This helps food to stay fresh and avoids crumbs on cucumber and the like which some kids find a real turn off.’ Small pots for salad dressing or dips are also helpful and make foods more plateable when they are ready to eat.
Chose a thermal lunchbag which will help keep food warm or cold as you require and grab a couple of freezer blocks too so food can be kept cool in the summer months – or if the radiators are raging in the winter!
Rather than use plastic one-use cutlery, which can break easily and is also a source of plastic waste, buy some cheap cutlery just for lunchboxes and remined your kids everything has to go back in the lunchbag, ‘You can pick up six metal spoons for £1 in discount stores or use some old cutlery of your own,’ adds Caroline. ‘It’s much easier for children to use than the single-use cutlery and in my experience they come home in the lunch bag with no problems.’
Now you can transport a hot meal suddenly meal prep and a bit of forethought means no sandwich making! ‘Before term starts and one afternoon in the term I prep the freezer with quick meals which can be defrosted overnight and microwaved or heated straight from the freezer in some cases,’ says Caroline. ‘Soups, pasta’s and stews are all so easy to batch-bake and have in portions in the freezer. I cook them while everyone is eating breakfast, pour it in a pot and pop it in their lunchbag. It’s so easy.’ Frozen veggies and rice are also a fab quick throw together if you have nothing else ready and can be served with a separately packed piece of cheese, cold meats or cooked tofu to name a few.
‘It’s also worth thinking ahead so if you are making spaghetti bolognase for dinner, do a bit extra pasta and cover it with pesto and perhaps add some frozen sweetcorn to make a tasty lunch the next day – or pop that in the freezer for another day. You don’t have to do extra cooking to get on top of hot lunches, just cook more of what you are already making to ensure there are leftovers for the next day or the freezer,’ recommends Caroline.
Cold meals don’t have to be sandwiches or wraps either. Many children love ‘picky’ meals, and these are a great way to introduce lots of fruits and vegetables too. Pack a multi compartment container with things like carrot batons, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, grapes, cubes of cheese, some mini bread sticks and hummous for a picnic style meal which is all bitesize.
‘Homemade pizza is actually very easy to make and can be made and in the oven within the hour as rising time is fast,” says Caroline. ‘With a mixed vegetable tomato sauce and some veggies or protein on the mozzarella top it can actually be a really nutritious meal and again, frozen ahead in slices and just defrosted overnight.’ Similarly quiche is a versatile and easy make which is simple to pack away and be eaten with hands! You can make small ones or a large one which everyone in the family can take slices from for a couple of days.
It’s worth looking to other cultures for ideas, for example, sushi (with vegetable or cooked fish tops ideally and a cool pack) is an easy eat or any of the dishes and salads to be found in Greek or Middle Eastern cuisine are tasty and easy to transport.
‘Salads can also be filling,’ adds Caroline. ‘Think about maybe a noodle salad, couscous or quinoa or adding things like cold new potatoes to a tuna salad. You can always pack the dressing in a little pot separately so it doesn’t make the salad soggy and children love adding it when they are ready as it makes them feel in control and grown up!’
Also change up the breads you use, maybe pack a giant pretzel with veg and dips one day, or a hot pot of curry with a naan another day. ‘Once you start thinking outside the sandwich box you will be amazed how easy it is to add variety to packed lunches – and how not going the sandwich route can actually be quicker and easier sometimes.’
If you enjoyed this, try this delicious after school supper idea that you’ll want to make time and time again. Or if you’re in the mood for a sweet treat, why not try this incredible avocado ice cream?