It’s Sunday night and you’re standing in the kitchen looking into the fridge wondering what to put in your child’s lunch box. Instead of grabbing bread, butter and cheese for the (yes, you guessed it) good old cheese sandwich, try some of the following options which are not only delicious and healthy but they’re quick and easy to make. Over the years the requirements by schools and day care centres have changed quite dramatically. The list of items which are not allowed is getting longer and longer. While that is a good thing for our children’s health for obvious reasons, such as allergies and obesity, it can be a real challenge for parents to think of new ideas of food that the little ones will eat and actually enjoy.
What should be included in a lunchbox?
The ratio of foods included in lunchboxes should be equal to the children’s lunch at home.
A lunchbox should contain:
- Fresh fruit
- Crunchy vegetables
- A meat or protein food such as slices of lean meat, hard boiled egg (peanut butter and nut paste is discouraged due to other children’s possible allergies)
- Dairy food such as a cheese stick or slice, grated cheese, milk or yoghurt
- Starchy food such as bread, a roll, pita or flat bread, fruit bread or crackers
Children should be encouraged to participate in making up their lunchboxes too. It teaches them responsibility, gives them the opportunity to express their tastes and choices, and gets them interested in anticipating their food the next day. It can also be a valuable time spent together. Especially for working parents who don’t get to spend as much time with their children – any moment counts.
A personal anecdote which proves my point perfectly. When my husband was a little boy his mum asked him what he’d like put in his lunchbox and he said he wanted “sandwich with mustard and raisins”. Well, while my mother-in-law thought it was a strange combination, she did as he asked and made him this funky sandwich and guess what?! He ate it all and loved it! Maybe he liked the taste and maybe he just liked the fact that his mum respected his wish (maybe both). Let the kids have some say in what they eat – as long as it’s within reason of course.
There are lots of food choices available for lunch boxes. However, it can sometimes be difficult to decide which foods are healthy choices. These suggestions published at www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au include:
- Fruit – best choices include fresh or tinned fruit. Dried fruit is sticky and high in sugar, so have it occasionally. Best left out of the lunch box are dried fruit bars and ‘straps’, which are very high in sugar, low in fibre and stick to children’s teeth causing tooth decay.
- Vegetables – try vegetable sticks with dip or a small container with mixed vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks, capsicum and cucumber. Chips and packets of crisps are best left for parties and special occasions.
- Milk, yoghurt and custard – include a small drink of milk or tube/pouch of yoghurt (freeze overnight) wrapped in a cloth in an insulated lunch box. Best left out of the lunch box are ‘dairy desserts’ and flavoured milks, which are high in sugar.
- Dips, cheese and biscuits – pre-packaged or your own homemade versions of cheese and crackers are fine. Children enjoy mini packaged cheeses, best to make sure your child can open the cheese. Avoid sweet dips such as chocolate spreads. ‘Oven-baked’ savoury biscuits are just as high in salt and fat as chips and are best avoided.
- Different breads add interest – include a variety of bread, especially if children begin to lose interest in sandwiches. Try bread rolls, pita bread, flat bread, bagels, fruit loaf or buns, foccacias, scones, pikelets, muffins, crumpets, crispbreads, rice cakes or corn thins.
- Vary the fillings – fillings can include vegemite or other yeast extract, we discourage using peanut butter in lunch boxes due to other children’s allergies, cheese (try different types), tuna, egg, sliced cold meats, baked beans, grated carrot and lettuce, chopped roast meat with pickles or chutney, and avocado. Dips like caviar (taramasalata), eggplant, chickpea (hummus), cucumber, yoghurt (tzatziki) or spinach also make good spreads. Avoid chocolate spreads, jams and honey, and fatty meats like salami.
- Muffins and cakes – try making your own muffins and cakes as a great way to include more fruit and vegetables. Examples include sultana, carrot, zucchini, banana or pumpkin. Donuts and creamy cakes are best offered at birthdays and special occasions instead of in lunch boxes.
- Muesli and ‘breakfast’ bars – almost all ‘bars’ are too high in sugar to include regularly, but cereal bars may be better for teeth than chewy sticky muesli bars. Try to avoid muesli bars and chocolate bars in lunch boxes. These are expensive and usually stuck together with fats and sugars.
In most cases, food is stored in lunch boxes for several hours, so the lunch box needs to stay cool. Food safety suggestions include:
- Choose an insulated lunch box or one with a freezer pack, or include a wrapped frozen water bottle to keep the lunch box cool.
- Follow hygienic food preparation methods. This is especially important when food will be stored in the lunch box for many hours before eating.
- Prepare lunches the night before and store in the fridge or freezer.
- Perishable foods such as dairy products, eggs and sliced meats should be kept cool and eaten within about four hours of preparation. Don’t pack these foods if just cooked. First cool in the refrigerator overnight.
Ok, so here are the promised recipes 🙂
- 2 cups (300g) self-raising flour
- 3/4 cup (55g) grated tasty cheese
- 1/2 cup finely diced ham
- 1 capsicum, de-ribbed and diced
- 1/4 cup mushrooms, finely chopped
- 150g butter, melted
- 1 cup (250ml) milk
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 tbsp parsley, chopped
After the muffins cool down, they can be frozen in an airtight container and used later as needed.
- 2 slices puff pastry, thawed
- 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
Toddler Friendly Mini Frittatas
- 1 cup of broccoli and/or spinach
- 6 eggs
- 1 cup shredded cheese
- ½ cup of milk
- 3 strips of bacon (optional)
Mini Vege Quiches
- 1/2 Zucchini, grated
- 1 Carrot, grated
- 1 Cup Pumpkin, grated
- 1 Cup Cheese, grated
- 1/2 Cup Sweet Potato, chopped finely
- 3 Eggs
- 1/3 Cup Milk
- 1 Tsp Dried Herbs
For the Couscous:
- 45 g couscous
- 125 ml hot vegetable stock
- 20 g red pepper, diced
- 1/2 medium carrot
- 2 spring onions, sliced
- 1 tbsp raisins
- 1 1/2 tbsp pine nuts toasted
For the Dressing
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp honey
- salt & pepper
- 2-4 chicken breasts
- 1 cup plain flour
- salt and pepper
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup milk
- vegetable oil for frying
Vegetable Rice Paper Rolls
- 1 large carrot (180g), grated coarsely
- 2 trimmed celery sticks (200g), chopped finely
- 150 chinese cabbage, shredded finely
- 2 tsp fish sauce
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- 1tbsp lemon juice
- 24 x 17cm rice paper square sheets
- 24 fresh mint leaves
- Combine carrot, celery, cabbage, sauce, sugar and juice in small bowl
- Place 1 sheet of rice paper in medium bowl of warm water until just softened; lift sheet carefully from water, placing it on a tea-towel-covered board with a corner pointing towards you
- Place 1 level tablespoon of the vegetable mixture horizontally in centre of sheet; top with 1 mint leaf.
- Fold corner facing you over filling, folding in sides after first complete turn of roll. Repeat with remaining rice paper sheets, vegetable mixture and mint leaves.
(Recipe from Women’s Weekly fresh food for babies & toddlers)
Tuna and Sweet Potato Logs
- 500g sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into large chunks
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 185g tin tuna (in oil), drained
- 3 tbs parmesan, finely grated
- 1 tbs parsley, finely chopped
- 3 tbs wholemeal plain flour
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 75g fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs
- 2 tbs light olive oil