“What shall I pack into the little one’s lunch box tomorrow?” This is a question that every mum faces when making sure everything is ready for the next day of school. It’s easy to see why it’s our least favourite task, isn’t it? After all who likes to:
• Wake up extra early to cook before anyone else is up
• Feel the pressure to make something that is healthy, tasty AND interesting enough for your kid to eat
• Feel inadequate about lacking the motivation to re-create the fancy looking bento boxes with sculpture like qualities that float around on the internet
• Know that doing ALL of the above, does not guarantee that the little one will actually eat everything!
That said, it’s still a task that has to be done, and here are six hacks to get through packing your child’s lunch boxes for school with as little heartburn as possible!
1. Plan ahead
This one is the most obvious, yet also the most important thing to do. Take 15 minutes on the weekend to make a lunch box schedule for the upcoming week. The list below is what I’ve come up with for my daughter’s lunches. We pick one item from each category so her lunch box comprises a balanced combination of complex carbs, protein, fibre and at least one raw fruit or vegetable.
A lot of food items can be prepped ahead of time and frozen or refrigerated. Pancakes, fried rice, baked pasta cups, healthy savoury muffins and meatballs are all examples of food that can easily be made in advance to make weekday mornings easier to get through.
2. Portion control
As mums, we constantly worry about whether our little one is eating enough. As a result, we pack an ambitious amount of food into our child’s lunch box. Even if your child eats larger portions at home, they might not eat the same amount at school as there are too many distractions and they have too little patience to finish every last bite. So don’t put too much pressure to ensure that your child’s lunchbox is filled to the brim; it’ll only result in frustration for both you and your little one.
3. Make Things That Are Easy to Eat
To reiterate my earlier point – kids, especially those under six, are in a highly distracting environment at school and foods that take a little longer to eat are therefore more likely to be left uneaten as it takes away from precious minutes in the playground or chatting with friends. If you pack things like finger sandwiches, skewered grilled chicken or fish, veggie crudités, fruit sticks, pasta cups and mini pizzas, these are more likely to be eaten.
4. Add Lots Of Colour
As a rule, in our home we aim to have at least three to four different colours on our plate and in our lunchboxes. Children eat with their eyes first. A lunch box with variety of colours from fruit and veggies looks friendly and appetising, and they contain a host of beneficial nutrients too! You can also make your child’s lunch box look bright and fun by using coloured containers and cutlery!
5. Test it First at Home
Having new dishes is always good but you should do a test run at home to see how the dish ‘ages’ over four to six hours so you learn the changes that happen in taste and texture. I realised how well a dish ‘ages’ affects whether my child eats it when my little one who has an endless appetite for all things pasta brought home barely touched spaghetti lunch far too many times.
When I ate leftover spaghetti a few weeks later made me realise that this dish had been unsuccessful so far for two reasons:
1. The texture of the spaghetti after a few hours was sticky and dry as the sauce was fully absorbed.
2. Spaghetti takes much longer to eat than macaroni/penne.
Thus for lunch boxes I fill with pasta, I stick to either:
1. Use macaroni or a smaller pasta and add a few extra tablespoons of water to the sauce to keep the pasta soft and smooth.
2. Cut up the spaghetti into smaller lengths, mix it with the sauce, pour into a muffin cup and bake with some grated cheese on top… Voila! It’s a “spaghetti muffin”, which is great to eat even at room temperature (and a lot more convenient for my active little girl!)
6. Healthy Breakfasts make Fun Lunches:
Switch things up in what is otherwise routine, is fun for little ones and grownups alike. It is totally ok to deviate from the conventional concepts of what a proper lunch consists of. “Upside down mornings” for instance, are a very popular concept in our home and my little one has great fun swapping breakfast and lunch menus! On these special days, she eats a veggie-loaded oat porridge or rice for breakfast and eagerly looks forward to her banana& buckwheat mini pancakes, fresh berries, cheese and boiled egg for lunch!
Tanya Soman is the founder & head chef at Fusspot & Foodie, a Singapore based kids-focused food start-up and mum to her five-year-old girl Keya. When she takes a break from juggling her various roles as a mum, wife and entrepreneur, Tanya will most likely be found reading to her little girl in an animated voice, teaching herself origami or reminding her goofy dog-child Sherlock that crayons & Lego are not real food!