Niño ELA is passionate about the importance of nutritional education at an early age. For many families, preparing the school lunchbox can be a daunting task. At Niño ELA, our commitment to healthy food, every day extends to providing tips to families whose children are preparing for school. Here, our Nutritional Ambassador Lauren Burns, outlines how with a little forward planning, it can be easy to whip together a delicious and healthy repertoire for fuelling your hungry school goers.
Disclaimer: I wanted to begin by saying, I’d like you to look upon these suggestions as inspiration as to what might work in your kitchen and with your family’s eating habits. For example, my kids absolutely love leftovers in their lunch, so I plan for this when I’m preparing dinner and so that’s how we roll…that week. Other times, my kids prefer a more ‘eat on the run’ (not great for digestion!) type lunch and then we opt for something more like a frittata or a wrap that they can hold as they walk out into the playground. This can be very dependent on the school. Do they have the children sit and eat before they go out to play? Or does lunch/playtime start simultaneously when the bell goes? So, please use these suggestions as a guide and mix and match with your family’s needs.
Tools of the Trade
Firstly, set yourself up with some great lunch boxes that will give you the flexibility you need to add variety to your children’s lunches. I invested in some fabulous stainless-steel lunch boxes when my kids were in kinder and although they were expensive, they are still using them to this day (my son is in grade 5). I prefer lunchboxes that allow zero waste – so I can place food directly inside, avoiding any plastic or foil wrapping.
- Avoid plastics
- Drink bottles (stainless steel is best)
- Thermoses are brilliant, especially in winter. Summer they will keep a smoothie cool too.
- Lunch boxes – Stainless steel or Bento Box style are great. Do your research, there are some great ones out there. My personal favourite is Planet Box.
- Have some smaller containers designated to put salads, dressings etc inside the lunchbox.
- Keeping things cool – having some flat freezer blocks can be handy to keep food fresh and cool, especially in summer. There are some really flat ones that will just fit inside the lunchbox case.
8 Top Tips
Food prep on a Sunday, makes lunches for the week ahead so much easier. Chopping veggies to be added with dips or just to crunch on is great to do ahead.
Top Tip #2: What can you freeze?
It’s always good to consider what you can freeze that will be good for school lunches. E.g., making extra zucchini slice, dahl or even some cakes or muffins. Prep them in the freezer so they are good to grab and won’t stick together.
Top Tip #3 Thermos suggestions
Hot: Minestrone or any soup of choice, Ramen noodles, Dahl or Curry, Stir-fry, Fried rice
Cold: Smoothie – Simply make the smoothie and pop it in the thermos, then put the whole thermos in the freezer. Take it out in the morning and pop it in their schoolbag. It can become wet as it thaws out, so you can wrap it in a tea-towel to prevent the bag getting wet. This is perfect for those super-hot summer days.
Top Tip #4: Night Before vs School Morning
This is personal preference. Obviously, if you are putting hot food in a thermos you will need to heat it up that morning. For me, it depends on how organised I am and how early we need to leave. If we have an early start, I always try to have lunches made the night before. It makes for a much easier departure to simply grab the lunch boxes from the fridge.
Top Tip #5: Get them involved
Again, this can depend on the age of the child and their interest. My kids will vary with their enthusiasm to make their lunches but often if they have time the night before they will add and create the meals they like. I get them to choose things that I want them to have e.g., “choose a piece of fruit” or “choose 2 vegetables to go in your lunch”. They have autonomy and I have them eating fruit and veg! #winwin
Top Tip #6: Variety
Provide variety and an array of textures and colours. This way you will be providing a variety of phyto-nutrients (plant nutrients) For example, blueberries are high in flavonoids – great for the brain and carrots are rich in beta-carotene – great for the eyes. Talking to children about eating the rainbow is a fun way to teach them that eating a diverse range of plants is good for us.
Top Tip #7: Choose whole-grains
Where you can, opt for whole-grains, these will give you more ‘bang for your buck nutritionally’ and won’t overload their digestive system with a lot of one grain, typically wheat. If you are making sandwiches or wraps, choose good quality breads such as sour dough or ones made with spelt flour or ancient grains as they are easier to digest than refined plain wheat flour. Some fillings could include grated veg and cheese, banana and nut butter, avocado and hummus, salad, and tzatziki.
Top Tip #8: After school snacks
Double up. When meal planning for the week, consider also what can be used for after school snacks. For example, if you make a big batch of Cheesey Veggie Muffins for after school snacks, make sure you set some aside for lunches the next day or the day after.
- A piece of fruit (chopped up or whole)
- Vegetables (veggie sticks, salad, in a wrap, in a curry, zucchini slice, frittata etc)
- Protein. This is great for their nutrition but also to help satiety and keep their tummies happy. Examples include boiled egg, meat such as kangaroo, beef (use organic or grass-fed where possible), nuts and seeds (if allowed), little container of chickpeas
- Cakes, muffins, foods high in refined sugar
- Homemade is usually best. In most recipes I half the recommended sugar or use other options such as rapadura, rice malt syrup, maple syrup or honey. Banana is a fabulous sweetener too.
- Deli meats and other processed foods e.g., ham, salami etc
- Heavily packaged and processed foods
Lauren Burns is Niño ELA’s Nutritional Ambassador, an Olympic gold medallist and a leading nutritionist who shares our passion for building healthy eating habits for life.