Lunchbox time is upon us once again mamas and we asked you to get in touch with your questions about how to liven up the daily packed lunch grind!
Turns out you had loads of questions. Many of you were sick of making the same sandwiches every day or were looking for some really quick, fail safe ideas to get lunches made (and eaten!) and had other questions about portion sizes and tips to reduce waste.
Yes, you asked and we answered… well when we say ‘we’, we actually got food guru Deirdre Doyle of The Cool Food School, who’s an expert in helping kids to eat healthy and well to get the answers for you.
Here’s Deirdre’s top seven tips that will hopefully help get you through the new school term and beyond
1. Can you suggest some lunchbox options that don’t revolve around a sandwich or bread?
• Soup – this is a brilliant option especially as the weather gets cooler. There are lots of great flasks available on the market to keep it warm. Homemade soup where possible or a good quality shop-bought soup would both work (eg. Happy Pear soup).
• Egg muffins – mix beaten eggs with a selection of chopped veggies (eg. spring onion, sweetcorn, tomato) season, pop into a greased muffin tin, top with grated cheese and bake for 18-20 minutes. The combinations with these are endless and are handy for little hands.
• Oatcakes with cheese and fruit, raw veggies with hummus (if allowed in school – remember hummus has sesame seeds in it) and a yoghurt are all great options
• Leftovers from dinner – eg. Pasta, chicken, etc. These can be eaten warm or cold.
• Quesadilla – put a wholemeal wrap on a dry pan, add grated cheese and filling of choice eg. sweetcorn, spinach, mushroom, tomato etc. , top with a second wrap and cook on one side for 2/3 minutes, flip and cook the other side. Cut into wedges and serve with chopped avocado and crème fraiche.
• Homemade sushi – yes I know what you’re thinking but my 9 year old can make it! Cook your rice, chop your fillings – this can be as simple as cucumber and carrots or you can add avocado, fish etc, and assemble. Easy!
• half an avocado (brushed with lemon juice to avoid browning) with some tomatoes and homemade tortilla chips (cut a tortilla in triangles, brush lightly with oil and bake for about 15 minutes turning to ensure they get crispy).
2. For children starting school in September for the first time, how much food should parents be providing in the lunchbox?
The principal where my children go to school always jokes about how the kids come into junior infants with enough lunch for a labourer on a building site! Parents tend to give too much food to start with and there is the issue of not having enough time to eat in school. I would suggest the following – but it will of course, depend on your own child:
• A small sandwich – I have used one slice of bread for junior infants and two slices when they get older.
• 1/2 pieces of fruit
• Some raw veggies – eg. tomatoes, carrot sticks, pepper sticks
This should probably be enough. You could add a small yoghurt or handful of dried fruit if you’re worried it’s not enough.
3. What are some easy-to-make lunchboxes that will use up all or most the ingredients bought each week so there is less waste?
• I hate wasting food! In order to minimise food waste on the lunchbox front, I start the week with a large bowl of sandwich filler such as tuna, chicken or egg. I use this up until it’s all gone.
• Then if I’m short for the rest of the week, I might switch to cheese and hummus as a sandwich filler or add a banana to the lunchbox for a DIY sandwich.
• If I have too many raw veggies chopped, I simply use them in my dinner prep.
• With leftover fruit, they go into a smoothie and if there’s too much smoothie that goes into the freezer as ice pops!
4. Do you have any lunchbox ideas that all ages can eat, as well as the grownups lunchbox?
• Soup as already mentioned, is a great option for the whole family
• Egg muffins as mentioned above, can also be used in the grown up’s lunch box – add a side salad and some good quality bread if desired
• Dinner leftovers – a hit with everyone
• All sandwich fillings can be used by the whole family – you can bulk up the grownup sandwiches with additional salad ingredients – e.g. Lettuce, onion, cucumber etc.
• Cold pizza is popular across all ages!
• Wholemeal pasta salad – add veggies, chicken or fish (I love smoked mackerel but might not work for the kids) and a simple dressing
• Chicken drumsticks are easy for kids to eat and with the addition of a salad, will work well for adults too
5. Tips to help fussy eaters accept some more variety in their lunchbox?
I often hear from parents that their child has eaten the same lunch/sandwich for the past 3/5/7 years or so! This can be very frustrating as a parent.
A couple of things to bear in mind –
• If your child is eating a healthy, balanced diet at home then don’t worry too much about their lunch.
• Time to eat in school is quite short so food needs to be easy to hold and eat, especially for a fussy eater.
• Don’t add stuff to lunch boxes that might smell/be slimy – your child might be the butt of jokes from classmates as a result. I have first-hand experience of this.
• It’s a good idea to try new foods at home before putting them into the lunchbox.
• get them involved in the lunchbox making – ask them what their friends eat that they might like to try or in the supermarket, let them pick the fruit and vegetable they want in their lunchbox
• If you are putting something new into the lunchbox, start small. When I make sandwiches, I chop lettuce really small and “hide” it under the filling and never put it in the middle where it’s visible when the sandwich is cut! A bit sneaky but sometimes they are more accepting of foods if they know they have eaten them already and survived!
• Think of the foods your fussy eater likes at home and see can you incorporate that into the lunchbox. Eg. if they eat peas at home – send in a little pot for lunch, if chicken nuggets are on their acceptable list, make some extras for dinner and pop them in the lunchbox
6. After-school nut recipes
Everything I have already mentioned is nut-free as my children all go to a nut-free school and I know most schools are similar. To avoid the risk of boring you by repeating myself, I am actually going to give you some easy nut recipes as great after-school snack options.
Nuts are full of protein and a great energy boost for Irish dancers, footballers, swimmers, tennis players and chess players!
• Banana sushi – spread a wholemeal wrap with good quality nut butter, pop a whole banana in the middle, roll up the wrap around the banana and slice into “sushi”
• Oatcakes and nut butter
• Apple and nut butter – chop apples and serve with nut butter for dipping
• Add peanut butter to a smoothie for an easy to digest after-school snack
7. Any ideas for ways simple, but nutritious lunchbox fillers?
Here’s some everyday simple, sandwich fillers. I always like to add veg in wherever I can.
• Tuna mayo with sweetcorn, grated carrot, diced cucumber, red pepper or celery
• Boil or roast a couple of chicken breasts, chop and add diced cucumber/spinach/red pepper with mayo
• Hummus and cheese
• Cream cheese mixed with diced red pepper, cucumber and carrot
• Cheddar cheese with a side of tomato or apple slices (with a squeeze of lemon to avoid browning)
• Pack a banana with a wholemeal bread cheese sandwich for a DIY banana and cheese sandwich
• Fresh salmon (leftover from dinner) with cream cheese and cucumber