With the kids heading back to school this week or next, it’s time for many of us to dig out the lunchboxes. But before you resort to cheese sandwiches again, we have asked some of the UK’s favourite food bloggers and writers for some healthy lunch box ideas.
Universal free school meals aside, many of us still opt for a packed lunch. Maybe we like to know that the kids are having good quality ingredients, or something homemade. At the very least, it leaves us able to plan the evening meal without running the risk of a double-pasta day.
But if you prepare a lunch box (or three) every morning, the chances are that by half term, you’re stuck in a rut: the banana saver has been broken and you’ve given up on sending in (expensive) yoghurt pouches, which invariably come home unopened and go straight into the bin. You resort to hummus and carrot/cucumber/pepper sticks, cheese sandwiches and granola bars. Everyone is bored.
But it can be more exciting and varied for them, with very little extra effort from you. We asked some of our favourite family food bloggers and writers what they pack for their own children’s lunch boxes. The only criteria: it had to be easy, quick and go down well with the kids.
Cooking them Healthy
Established by Georgie and Jo, a Leith’s trained chef and cookery teacher and a qualified Nutritional Therapist respectively, Cooking them Healthy provides family focused nutritional recipes without compromising flavour. Their recipes do not require endless complicated ingredients and work well within the context of family life.
“Lunchboxes need to be quick, effortless and delicious, after all, having less time does not have to mean sacrificing taste and nutrition: you can create speedy lunches focusing on vibrant tastes and colours packed with energy and immune supporting nutrients.” says Jo.
Georgie & Jo’s Lunch Box Ideas:
Chicken Tortilla Wraps: A welcome alternative to sandwiches, children love wraps, and the chicken provides a good boost of much needed protein, key for growing bodies. The spices add flavour and interest as well as holding anti-inflammatory properties to help boost skin and support a healthy immune system. We like to cook with spice as much as we can, and strongly believe children are never too young to be introduced to a variety of flavours.
Experiment with other fillings the children might like such as smoked mackerel or trout, grated carrot, raisins, spinach leaves, sliced beetroot etc. Get the full recipe here.
Sweetcorn Fritters: These little fritters are wonderful. They take just minutes to make and can easily be made a day or two in advance and kept wrapped in the fridge for lunchboxes throughout the week. They are delicious served with a dip, such as hummus or pea tzatziki (below) or on their own. Sweetcorn is naturally sweet and full of fibre (key for digestive health), magnesium, iron and important vitamins like vitamin B – all great nutrients for energy levels. Get the full recipe here.
Pea Tzatziki: This vibrant dip makes a refreshing alternative to the old faithfuls we are most familiar with. The peas provide a healthy dose of immune boosting Vitamin C, and we love garlic for its natural antibacterial properties. Get the full recipe here.
Banana Bread: Our Banana Bread is made without refined sugar and is sweetened by mineral rich honey, maple syrup and banana. Spelt, an ancient cousin of wheat, has a lower gluten content and as a result is more easily digested than other white flours. You can of course use gluten-free flour if required. The dark chocolate chips add an indulgent feel and are packed with useful antioxidants. This banana bread freezes brilliantly, and a good trick is to slice it before freezing so you can just take what you need. It makes the perfect addition to a lunchbox for a lovely sweet treat. Get the full recipe here.
Mum to three boys, Holly was a finalist on the Great British Bake Off and now blogs about feeding her family at Recipes from a Normal Mum.
“The lunchboxes of my youth were a simple affair. A sandwich (usually cheese or Marmite on Mighty White bread), some crisps and, on a good day, pickled onion Monster Munch. A piece of fruit, often an apple, and always a chocolate bar – either a Viscount or a melted Penguin – plus a cheery carton of Um Bongo to wash it all down with. Easy.
My kids would be more than a little surprised to open their chill boxes to find such fayre. Us parents these days, well we’re just a little more savvy, aren’t we? We’re worried about E numbers and processed food and vitamin content and sugar and salt and… well it’s exhausting just thinking about it. Which is why these ideas might help a little.”
Holly’s Lunch Box Ideas:
Tapas is the original kid-friendly food. Bitesized by nature, it’s simply not overwhelming in the way most mealtimes feel to small tummies. Pack them up with some olives, sliced meats, chunks of interesting cheese, chopped fruit, some form of pâté spread on little round toasts and a slice of cold tortilla if time allows.
Making little quiches might make you baulk: the saturated fat, the requirement of making pastry. But wait! You can make ‘pastry’ using bread. Just roll regular bread out thinly, cut into circles and push into the holes of a cupcake tray. Brush with melted butter and bake for 5-10 mins at 180°C/gas mark 4 until toasted and brown. Leave to cool and then add whatever you fancy to the beaten eggs filling: a little cheese, an olive or two and perhaps some mushroom, then bake again.
The night before, just take a tortilla wrap, grate cheese onto half of it, add some ham, maybe some very thin slices of tomato, a couple of spinach leaves or some drained tuna – a smear of sweet chutney even. Whatever you can forage from the fridge. Then fold and grill for a couple of minutes on either side. Cool, slice into triangles and ta-da!
Not the late night, post pub variety. I’m talking about channelling your inner 70s party goddess and busting out the cocktail sticks. Mini kebabs of mozzarella cheese, marinated cooked chicken, cherry tomatoes and basil leaves go down well. Especially when followed by mini multi-berry kebabs with chocolate dipping sauce.
Fruity oaty bars
This takes a little more time, admittedly, but these bars freeze like a dream and they are refined sugar free. So cut them up once cool, wrap well, freeze individually and pop one into lunchboxes in the morning to keep the contents cool until lunchtime when they are ready to eat. Get Holly’s full recipe here.
MasterChef winner and blogger at Ping’s Pantry, Ping’s daughter Alexa loves food with different textures and packed full of flavour.
“One of my favourite lunch box ideas is to use tinned confit of duck, roasted in the oven until crispy the day before then the meat are shredded and put in the fridge. You get really good quality ones these days. I am a big believer in making ingredients stretch by making a few dishes with them. Depending on time, you can ask your children to help with the preparation. It is fun and engaging and will take less than 10 mins to prepare.
The cooked duck is really versatile in terms of lunchbox ideas. For example, it makes a great filling for an omelette wrap or try making duck ‘sushi’ by rolling bread around a filling of duck, cucumber and hoisin sauce. Fill a taco with duck, watermelon and black rice crackers or make duck fried rice with hoisin and eggs to serve cold in lunch boxes the next day. All of these work well with fresh fruits and raw veg for accompaniments.”
Vitalove was founded by Lizzie King, a mother of three, nutritionist and award-winning chef.
“There are plenty of ways of making this portable meal more interesting and way more healthy than your average soggy sandwich, whilst boosting their brains and sharpening their concentration. Avoiding the refined flours and sugar means no energy crash and fidgets for the afternoon. These all score high on the protein and vitamin stakes to get your little ones to the top of the class: and are really great for those who can’t do gluten, wheat or dairy.”
Lizzie’s Lunch Box Ideas:
Courgette Pasta Salad: Leftover pasta comes in a treat here, or make fresh and drain with cool water. Get the full recipe here.
Chia, Houmous and Cucumber Wholegrain Sandwiches: For those who are sticklers for a sandwich, you can upgrade it with a tiny sprinkle of magical chia seeds. These Aztec wonders have more calcium than milk more iron that spinach and more Omega-3 fatty acids than nuts. So consider this a great health hack. My son hasn’t noticed them yet, but probably enjoys the crunch, as they don’t taste really. Get the full recipe here.
Chickpea Wraps: A high protein hit with tons of taste. Make the wraps ahead if you want (they take minutes), and assemble with sliced chicken, tomatoes and grated carrot (or whatever filling you like) for a deliciously different healthy lunch. Get the recipe here.
The Fruit Kebab: So simple but so sweet, perfect to get their fruit load in and a great way of stopping soft, summer fruit getting bashed in Tupperware. Get the ‘recipe’ here.
The One-Handed Cook
Liz is a London-based mother of two and author of the popular The One-Handed Cook blog. Her site is packed with ideas to make life easier for busy mums and dads trying to get a meal on the table and keep everyone happy.
“My kids take a packed lunch to school every day, which means I know they have had something substantial and something healthy for lunch – they always devour the lot! I (nearly) always buy brown rolls and pitta breads. I never include crisps or chocolate bars or juice. They drink water.
I find that particularly with younger kids, ‘buffet style’ packed lunches are very successful, where they have a selection of small servings of different things and aren’t overwhelmed by a huge sandwich. The YumBox lunchbox is particularly brilliant for this.”
Liz’s Lunch Box Ideas:
‘Mini’ fruit and veg are popular: they’re easy to pick up and pop in the mouth. Veg-wise I include cherry tomatoes, carrot batons, sticks of cucumber, strips of red and yellow pepper and cooled cooked green beans. Popular easy-to-eat fruits are blueberries, strawberries or cut-up melon (packed with a mini fork) – these always go down well. Apples take too long to eat, I am reliably informed, and cutting them up can be tricky as they go brown.
Make life easy on yourself by peeling and cutting up a few carrots, peppers etc in one go, and storing them in an airtight container, so they will last you a couple of lunches.
Dried fruit salad: put a few raisins, a dried apricot or two and a couple of strips of dried mango in a small container or a lunchbox compartment.
Healthy sandwich fillings: toast wholemeal pitta breads and let them cool, my kids really love all of these healthy fillings:
* Sardines in tomato sauce mixed with mayonnaise: for a calcium kick, mash tinned sardines in tomato sauce with mayonnaise, as you would for tuna mayonnaise. Sardines are packed with calcium and a good protein alternative.
* Hummus and shredded iceberg lettuce – great vegetarian protein.
* Ham and sundried tomatoes – just pick out a couple from the jar and snip into the pitta directly using scissors. Sundried tomatoes are full of flavour and packed with the goodness of the sun!
* Cold chicken and avocado: chop up cooked chicken and mash a ripe avocado and mix together; season well and add a squeeze of lemon juice
* Egg mayonnaise and cress: the night before, hard-boil the eggs and then chop and mix with mayonnaise and salt and pepper to make egg mayo. Cress is dead easy to grow, and fun to do, just grow seeds on damp kitchen towel on a tray on the window sill.