Barely back to school a week and already run out of lunchbox ideas? Never fear,
Ruth O’Connor talks to the experts about how to pack a punch without compromising on nutrition or taste.
As the new school year gets off to a start, many of us are back to the endless round of packed lunches, coping with different tastes and working within the confines of healthy eating and anti-allergy policies in school.
The question is how to make lunchtime more exciting for the school kids in our lives whilst adding variety and interest, keeping food fresh and avoiding those lunchboxes coming back full at the end of the school day?
In our family our youngest guy loves fruit and veg and is happy to eat a variety of foods. Our older son prefers to stick to what he likes and isn’t a great fan of colourful foods or yoghurts in his lunchbox.
A new tip I’ll be adopting is to place an icepack into an insulated lunch bag to tackle the issue of warm food, as well as using a lunchbox with various compartments to separate different food types.
Particularly for younger kids it’s important that children can open and close their lunchbox easily — Sistema, Yumbox, Smash and Nude Food Movers are favourite brands of mine at the moment.
Kevin O’Toole is the head chef and co-proprietor of award-winning Chameleon Restaurant in Dublin’s Temple Bar and father of Lochlann (age seven) who started second class this term.
“My son, Lochlann, loves his meat, so leftovers such as roast chicken or boiled ham, cut into bite-sized pieces always go down a treat,” says Kevin.
“Lochlann has dyspraxia and responds well to different textures, crunchy, crispy, etc, as they stimulate his brain. We include lots of variety in his lunchbox, such as breadsticks, crackers, apple slices, pineapple wedges, dried fruit or scotch eggs occasionally.”
Kevin recommends including chickpeas or sweetcorn in the lunchbox: “Chickpeas are high in fibre and protein and are an obvious replacement for nuts, especially in schools that have a no nut policy,” he says.
“Sweetcorn is a carbohydrate that contains lutein and zeaxanthin which promote healthy vision. Sweetcorn is another way of getting veg into children.”
For added variety Kevin suggests adding ingredients such as hummus, scotch eggs, bread sticks, pitta bread, apple slices, pineapple wedges, dried fruit, homemade fruit purees and leftovers such as roast chicken, boiled ham and hot smoked trout or mackerel into the diet at lunchtime.
Multi-award-winning blogger Cliona O’Connor is better known as LeanMeanMomma. The mum of four advocates a healthy, fit lifestyle and says that the fewer processed foods that end up in a lunchbox, the better.
“Variety is key,” says Cliona.
“It should ideally consist of a main item such as a wholegrain sandwich or roll filled with some protein of choice — ham, cheese, chicken or turkey — and water to drink. Fresh fruit and/or vegetables, a smaller snack such as hummus, yoghurt or crackers and plenty of colour.”
Simple changes like a new relish can liven up any sandwich according to Cliona. “Adding a pesto or natural yoghurt and pesto mix in place of butter, or substituting bread for a brioche bun or pitta, can all help to mix things up.”
If pesto and nut butters are not allowed in the school, tahini or hummus can be treated as spreads or as dips for fruit, veg or bread sticks.
Cliona says it’s best to avoid putting pressure on fussy eaters but you can try to slip something new into separate containers and encourage them to give them a try.
She also urges parents not to be too hard on themselves if they have an off day where they are disorganised and the lunch box is less healthy than ideal.
“Obviously, nine days out of 10 it is important to be well-stocked, but life happens, if you are on track most of the time these occasions aren’t worth stressing about,” she says.
The Health Service Executive recommends that children eat some kind of carbohydrate item such as wholegrain bap, roll, wrap or sandwich with a protein-based filling, one dairy item such as yoghurt, milk or matchbox-sized piece of cheese and a piece of fruit at lunchtime.
Safefood.eu has plenty of suggestions for a varied lunchbox including advice on portion size and “healthier” treats, though warns that these can still contain sugar.
Many children will have been visited by the Food Dudes in school and the website of this campaign also offers good lunchbox ideas.
“I love when the Food Dudes come to our school as it eliminates a fruit or veg worry and if the kids see their classmates trying things they are more likely to as well,” says Cliona.
“I always ask my gang if they enjoyed their lunch every day when they get home and if the box isn’t empty I enquire as to why without ‘giving out’ to them.
I try to include a main item like a sandwich, with a pot of fruit such as berries, grapes, or orange segments, a yoghurt, some hummus and breadsticks and a bottle of water and yet… they usually they ask me for a bigger lunch.”
Homebird Recipes created by Cliona O’Connor aka LeanMeanMomma:
Cut courgette in half lengthways; this will help reduce waste. Slice the courgette lengthways with a peeler into several long thin slices.
Using a teaspoon “butter” them with hummus.
Lay the sliced turkey on top and season accordingly. Roll up lengthways and place secure with a cocktail stick.
Makes about 10
Blitz garlic, onion, galangal/ ginger, coriander, then fry gently without colouring.
Allow the above to cool.
Combine all the ingredients.
Shallow fry spoonfuls of the mix for about two minutes on each side, until golden.
Set aside on kitchen paper to remove oil.
Enjoy them hot or cold.
Heat oil to 180 degrees.
Deep fry chickpeas for about one minute.
Drain on kitchen paper, season with salt, adding spice of your choosing.
Allow them to cool and enjoy.
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