THE BLOG
06/01/2012 08:34 GMT | Updated 05/03/2012 05:12 GMT

Healthy Packed Lunches for Kids

This blog was written in conjunction with Rachel Jessey, a qualified nutritionist, member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy, and a specialist in infant and childhood nutrition.

It is important that children are fed a healthy diet to promote growth, sustain energy, improve concentration and boost natural defences. At school it is especially important that a child's lunch contains plenty of nutrients to stock up on those used throughout the morning and keep them sustained throughout the afternoon.

This I know. However, I still ended up in the packed lunch rut.

I didn't do it intentionally. I thought I was providing great packed lunches: healthy (no chocolate or sweets), a little bit inventive (soup and a sandwich in the cold weather) and full of nutritious food. But last week I heard my son telling my mum about his packed lunches, "We have the same stuff every day. Sandwich, yoghurt, fruit, bar, crisps. Boring."

I think part of the reason for the sameness of my packed lunches is that I need to be able to prepare the bulk of the packed lunch the night before - I simply don't have the time in the morning to make anything more complicated than a sandwich. So I got into the habit of buying things that I knew I could easily assemble. Then I got into the habit of buying those same things without thinking.

I began to look at the contents of the packed lunches more critically. The 'healthy' bars actually contained more sugar than a packet of chocolate buttons. I am still getting over that revelation. The tortilla chips I gave them every day (a large bag broken down into individual, small, portions by me - not a whole bag as Sam implied) were too salty. It was 'breakfast-cereal-gate' all over again (more on that another time).

So, New Year, new packed lunch menu. Below is a list of a week's packed lunch ideas, prepared by Rachel Jessey, a qualified nutritionist, to give me inspiration (and you, if you need it). It is based on all the things my kids like to eat. My youngest is five and so can cope with having a little pot of houmous to dip carrot sticks in etc.

Monday

Mini buffet - A selection of crackers, oat cakes and/or rice cakes, or slices of wholemeal bread with cheese cubes, chicken strips, carrot, cucumber and red pepper sticks, cherry tomatoes and dips such as houmous, cream cheese, guacamole or salsa

Apple

Yogurt

Bottle of water, 100% fruit juice - not from concentrate, or fruit smoothie

Tuesday

Wholemeal pasta mixed with tuna, cucumber cubes, red pepper cubes and sweetcorn, mixed with a little olive oil (to prevent it becoming a congealed mess)

Banana

Chopped dried apricots and nuts (if allowed at school)

Bottle of water, 100% fruit juice - not from concentrate, or fruit smoothie

Wednesday

Wholemeal cous cous with chickpeas, feta cheese and chicken strips and spring onions, cucumber and tomato cubes. Use ½ a stock cube in the water you make the cous cous with for extra flavour.

Box of raisins

Fruit in jelly

Bottle of water, 100% fruit juice - not from concentrate, or fruit smoothie

Thursday

Pitta pockets or wholemeal bread sandwich with egg and cress

Vegetable sticks with houmous

Yogurt

Bottle of water, 100% fruit juice - not from concentrate, or fruit smoothie

Friday

Wholemeal wrap with chicken, salsa, avocado and lettuce

Small fruit salad

Fromage frais

Bottle of water, 100% fruit juice - not from concentrate, or fruit smoothie

My kids were back at school yesterday and I have them the 'mini buffet' menu. All the lunch boxes came back empty, and they all agreed that it was a lovely lunch. Obviously, I realise that it is a novelty to have something different and I appreciate that I will have to keep the variety going, but it's a good start.

Top 5 golden rules for packed lunches:

  1. Make packed lunches the night before. No matter how tired you are. In the morning you will be tired and busy.
  2. Invest in a reusable water bottle (cheaper than bottled and better for the environment) and plastic containers to put the lunch in. They're cheaper in the long run that plastic lunch bags and stop everything getting squashed. Squashed food just isn't appetising.
  3. Be mindful of portion sizes.
  4. Experiment with different fillings for wraps and pitta pockets that you know your troopers will like, and mix and match the ideas. Variety is the spice of life.
  5. Always check with your school what foods you are allowed to pack for your child as some prevent you from including nuts, for example.