Sorting a school lunch box menu that is easy enough to maintain past week one (you’re not really going to roll homemade quinoa sushi every night, are you?); interesting and interchangeable enough for your kids to enjoy beyond day one; and healthy enough to bring you a notch closer to that mother of the year award is an art form.
The lunch box struggle is real, so this year we’ve asked accredited and practising dietician Emma Morris from The Chia Co to help us get you through it with tips, a planner, and three make-ahead recipes. Prepare the tupperware…
Emma Morris’ Top Ten Lunch Box Tips
- Preparation is key, and involving kids in your planning will help them take more interest in what they are eating. Stock your fridge with healthy hummus, yoghurt, and fresh fruit and vegetables, which can be easily packed into a lunch box.
- Keep healthy, ready-made snacks on hand. I keep Chia Pods in the fridge for whenever I’m short of time. These are made with real ingredients, including chia seeds, coconut milk, fresh fruit and cacao, and are free from refined sugars, added colours or flavours.
- Freeze foods. This keeps food fresh and means you can prepare on the weekend for the whole week ahead. Bread, muffins and baked snacks are perfect for freezing and defrosting when needed.
- Use leftovers. Cook a little extra the night before to use in lunch boxes throughout the week.
- Water is essential. Freeze a bottle of water the night before and include in the lunchbox – it will double as a cooler to keep food fresh.
- Make lunch colourful and fun to eat. Bright, fresh fruit and veggies in a range of colours and a variety of textures take the mundane out of lunchtime.
- Make healthy substitutes of the food your kids like to eat – swap potato chips for popped corn, use avocado instead of mayonnaise on sandwiches. Make sure you’re including a rich source of fibre in each lunchbox to help kids stay full for longer.
- Apples are an easy option for lunchboxes, but can be a little unexciting. Try putting cut fruit and mixed berries into a small plastic container to provide variety.
- Include a source of protein to boost concentration. Each lunchbox should include a source of high protein such as chicken, eggs and tuna. For plant based protein, chia seeds, soy beans and lentils are great. Protein will help keep kids fuller for longer and maintain high concentration levels in the classroom.
- From time to time, include a healthy treat, like a homemade muffin (see below chia, banana and date recipe). Baking them yourself means you know exactly what’s going into them, and including kids in baking and food preparation will empower them to make healthy lunch box decisions for themselves.
School Lunch Box Ideas: Sample Weekly Planner
Make-Ahead Lunch Box Recipes
Chia Banana and Date Muffins
150g whole wheat flour
100g Chia bran
50g desiccated coconut
1 tsp of ground cinnamon
1 tsp bicarb soda
2 ripe bananas
1 – 2 tbsp of honey (or to taste)
¼ cup Chia oil
½ tsp vanilla extract
200g chopped pitted dates
¾ cup of water
Strawberries or seasonal fresh fruit
- Preheat oven to 170 – 180°C
- Place dates and water in a small saucepan on the heat and bring to boil.
- Take off the heat and add 1 teaspoon of bicarb soda. Let it sit to cool down.
- Mix flour, Chia bran, coconut, cinnamon and bicarb soda in a bowl.
- Beat the bananas, eggs, oil, honey and vanilla in another mixing bowl.
- Mix all mixture and fold together.
- Place mixture into a muffin tin.
- Bake in oven for around 30 – 40 minutes or until firm to touch.
- Once cooked, place on a wire rack to cool. Can be frozen for later
Recipe by Sydney Swans Ryan O’Keefe for The Chia Co.
Gluten Free Chicken Meatballs
Makes 48 meatballs
1kg chicken mince
12 rash short cut rindless bacon
2 cloves garlic
2.5 tsp bacon fat (or preferred cooking oil)
- Preheat the oven to 180°C
- Finely chop bacon and onion and prepare garlic for crushing.
- In a medium frying pan add your bacon fat and heat on a medium heat. Add bacon first and fry for a couple of minutes. Add onion and fry for a further few minutes. Add garlic and fry for another minute.
- Pour the bacon and onion mix into a large bowl. Add chicken mince and mix with your hands.
- Roll into balls using about a heaped tablespoon of mixture. Place on lined baking trays.
- Once all rolled into balls, place in the oven for about 30 – 40 minutes.
- Serve, refrigerate, or freeze for later
Recipes courtesy planningwithkids.com
1/2 bunch parsley
3 cherry tomatoes cut in half
6 slices turkey meat
- Preheat oven to 200°C
- Crack eggs into a mixing bowl. Finely chop parsley and add to bowl. Whisk parsley through eggs thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper.
- Line muffin tray (silicone preferable) with one slice of turkey per holder and pour egg mix in so it fills the cup to the top.
- Slice cherry tomatoes in half and place one half on the top of each cup.
- Place in oven for 10-12 minutes or until egg is firm.
- Remove from the muffin tray and serve or refrigerate for later
Recipe courtesy Sally Matterson’s Simple Clean and Lean Cookbook