Packed Lunches for kids

Packed Lunches for kids can often be a source of angst and frustration for many parents. So often we collect our children from school or Kindy to find an uneaten lunchbox.

The other day, I was make my eldest son’s sandwich for school and he said to me: “Mum, do I have to have a sandwich for lunch again??”

I was flumaxed. Doesn’t everyone have a sandwich for lunch? “Well yes,” I replied, “It gives you the energy to play with your friends and to learn lots at school.”

A minute later I asked, “Well, what does everyone else at school have in their Packed Lunch?”

He reeled off a list of gourmet delights: bagels, tuna on crackers, rice crackers filled with cheese and mite, pasta salad, sushi, wraps…hmmmm….maybe Cheese and Marmite sandwiches 3 times a week wasn’t too exciting after all?

 Later that day, having lunch with my super-health conscious ultra-glamorous girlfriend, I quizzed her on what she packed for lunches for her 8 year old. “I always make sure there is lots of protein,” she started. “I chop up smoked chicken into slices, cut up sausages, give him a little mixture of salamis and hams, you know, that kind of thing…and I always make sure there are chunks of cheese, big slabs of freshly buttered bread, carrot sticks and hummus…”

“Wow! Like a platter?” I ask intrigued – goodness no wonder Jack is bored with his lunchbox. “Yes,” she replied, “and I vary it so some days there might be 4 pieces of sushi, or I might give him a boiled egg one day and some fresh bread or crackers.  I use those lunchboxes with the different sections and I’ll put chopped up veggies in one section and hummus or peanut butter or another dip in another section. And I always pack a yoghurt pot in a separate container for something sweet, chopped up apples or mini fruit kebabs sticks, that kind of thing.”

I was chastened. I made no way as much effort as that. I decided to ask other girlfriends what they did to get a better feel as to whether my friend was SuperMom or whether it was normal to provide gourmet delights for your children…

What I found was that everybody seemed to make much more effort at varying the lunches than I did. One girlfriend told me that she had a baking afternoon one day a week where she would bake a mixture of sweet and savoury items including cheese and bacon muffins, marmite scrolls, sweetcorn and zucchini fritters as well as banana loaf, lemon muffins and that kind of thing. She would keep 2 of each item out and freeze the rest. She would divide the items between different days for her children and then the following week she would have lots of baking frozen and would bake something different that day.

 Another girlfriend told me she tried to vary the type of sandwiches she would give her little boy. One day it might be a bagel with ham and cream cheese, the next day it might be egg mayo on wholegrain bread, day three might be a cheese and ham scroll, day four tuna wrap…you get the picture.

Some people didn’t even give bread to their children every day, they varied it with left over pasta and potato salad and chopped up ham, or large rice crackers stuffed with hummus and tuna.

Armed with this new-found knowledge and determined to do better with lunches going forward, I went to the supermarket.

Not only are there such an amazing range of different breads that you can give your children that will definitely keep the interest (everything from split English muffins to crumpets to pita pockets, bagels and wraps and yummy rolls) but you can buy prepacked ‘protein packs’ now, although it would be just as easy to do your own by chopping up sausage meat, salamis, hams and chickens. There are yoghurt pops, cheesy sticks, cheese triangles, apple crisps (chopped up apple packaged up like crisps), dried apricots, banana crisps, seeds and nuts, raisins, pre-chopped carrot sticks…all sorts of things.

 I have also looked up some great recipes and ideas in childrens cook books and some magazines. I am newly inspired for the week ahead. There is nothing so annoying that having your child bring home a hardly-touched Packed Lunch box, so I have planned my lunches going forward. Here is what my children will be having:

Monday – Pita pocket filled with tuna, sweetcorn and cheese; Popcorn; Banana muffin; Carrot sticks and hummus

Tuesday – Cheese, ham and sweetcorn muffin; Pre-cooked mini sausages; Yoghurt; Strawberries & chopped banana

Wednesday – Wholegrain bread with chopped egg, ham and cheese; Celery sticks and a little pottle of peanut butter; Apple ‘crisps’; A little mix of raisins, sultanas, seeds and nuts.

Thursday – Cheese and marmite scroll; Pita crisps & a pottle of home-made salsa; Salami sticks & chopped ham; Sliced orange

Friday – Mini quiche; Rice crackers; Banana muffin; A slice of watermelon

Other lunch box ideas:

Non-Boring Sandwiches – there’s nothing wrong with sandwiches but it pays to vary them. Try bagels, crumpets, split muffins or bake savoury muffins and loaves; or try wraps and pita pockets or even croissants.

You can make rolled sandwiches by rolling out a slice of bread with a rolling pin, spreading it lightly with margarine or another spread (eg cheese spread) then adding chopped or sliced chicken or ham or luncheon. Or try spreading it with jam or peanut putter. Then roll it up tightly and slice it.

Make your own variation of club / double-decker sandwiches with three slices of buttered bread sandwiched together with two complimentary but contrasting fillings such as sliced banana and strawberry jam; grated cheese with marmite and shredded lettuce; egg mayonnaise and tuna mayo; tuna and sweetcorn.

Try stuffing pita pockets or wraps with left-over meat from the night before eg cold sausages, roast chicken and even left over vegetables and salads or a sliced hard-boiled egg with lettuce or thin slices of turkey with grated cheese and a little salad cream; or chicken and salsa with shredded lettuce.

Open sandwiches are a great variation to the normal sandwich. Spread with mashed egg or cheddar cheese or cheese spread or avocado and thinly sliced ham then cut into interesting shapes using cookie cutters.

Cold mini burgers or sliders – Kids never care if its cold and it still tastes good!

Meatballs, chicken legs or chicken nibbles or cold lamb chops, cold sausages or schnitzel or chicken kebabs (lunch on a stick!)

Boiled eggs – can always try cutting up toast fingers or mousetraps to serve with it.

Chopped up meats  - try salamis, roast or smoked chicken, ham or cold sausages.

Cheese - Chopped up cheese chunks/ you can buy cheese sticks or triangles or babybels – serve with crackers or chunks of bread.

Crackers – Water crackers, rice crackers, cheese crackers etc. You can get the large rice crackers and treat them like a bread, sandwiching them together with a filling.

Chunks of bread or rolls and Dips or Pate

Mini pizzas (made with with split English muffin).

Savoury muffins, Scones or Scrolls (mix up your flavours eg Cheese and Sweetcorn/ Ham & Cheese/ Cheese & Chives/ spring onions, Bacon & cheese etc).

Fritters –  try sweetcorn fritters or courgette & feta or even whitebait or crispy risotto cakes.

Loaves – Banana loaf/ Lemon Loaf (or muffins) or fruit bread.

Mini quiches or Frittatas, a slice of Bacon & Egg pie or Spanakopita or Savoury Tarts and Pies always go down well. You could also try Spring Rolls, Fishcakes, Sausage rolls and Quesadillas.

Sushi

Flasks of hot soup and a bread roll

Pancakes/ Pikelets

Yoghurt or mini Jellies – (you can make jelly cubes using less water in ice-cube trays with slices of fruit in them) or try Tins of Fruit or Creamed Rice

Dried fruit and nuts – apricots, banana chips, sliced dried apples, raisins, sultanas, dried cranberries, a mixture of seeds and nuts.

Chopped vegies and dips – try carrot sticks, cucumber, green beans or sugar snaps, capsicum or celery. Cherry tomatoes are always a popular one. You can give them a little pot of hummus or peanut butter or another dip with them.

Fresh fruit – It doesn’t always have to be apples, bananas and oranges. Try mixing it up with fruit that’s in season eg Strawberries, thick slices of watermelon, chunks of pineapple with toothpicks for non-sticky eating, blue berries, cherries, apples, plums, apricots, pears, grapes, passion fruit or kiwi fruit with a teaspoon. You could even tried tinned fruit for a change or making a fruit kebab. One mother on our Facebook page shared the idea of drawing a ‘face’ onto the piece of fruit eg a smiley face on a banana or apple.

Pasta or Noodles – also make a great change in a lunchbox.

Treats – Try fruit bars or museli bars or biscuits or popcorn, Japanese rice crisps, rice crackers, pretzels

Let’s face it, we all get annoyed when we pick our children up from school or kindy and their lunch box is uneaten.

Thanks to our Facebook fans for all their great tips so far. One mother suggested you get your children to pick out 5 of their favourite ingredients from the fridge or cupboard and rustle something together from there. Another mother suggested you pack little notes in your child’s lunch box or draw smiley faces on things like boiled eggs or fruit. Another mother has suggested cutting sandwiches into interesting shapes with a cookie cutter then putting them on a stick for a point of difference.

If anyone else has some great lunchbox inspiration out there or some other ideas for interesting packed lunches, please please share them…I’m still looking for as much inspiration as possible!

For more inspiration you could try Annabel Karmel’s great Packed Lunch book, pictured here.

Written by

Jacqui Lockington is a working mum. Jacqui works full-time for an advertising agency in New Zealand and juggles life at work with being mum to two young children, Jack and Sasha. Jacqui is married to John and has just finished her first book with co-author, Nat - If Only They'd Told Me - due out later this year. Jacqui trained in journalism in London and worked in radio, newspapers, public relations and advertising before moving to New Zealand where she currently lives with her family. You can contact Jacqui at Jacqui@ifonlytheydtoldme.com
  • Molly

    Great ideas. Just remember that some kids actually LIKE having the same thing for lunch every day. My boys (8 and 10) like the familiarity of knowing what they are going to have for lunch. I do know a boy who doesn’t like sandwiches at all, so some of the ideas in this post would be great for him :-)

  • Krystal

    Wow! I can def. relate to this post Jacqui! I struggle every morning with packed lunches. Thanks so much for the post. I feel inspired to do some planning!

  • Charlotte

    I pretty much do the same thing most days! Some great ideas here although I am going to be devastated once I go to the effort of baking and that comes home uneaten!

  • Natalie

    - American hot dog (frankfurter in a bun with sauce and/or mustard)

    - Mini spring rolls or wontons (buy in the supermarket freezer section)

    - Mini pizzas made on pita bread

    - Filled pasta – eg. tortellini, ravoli

    - Rice salad (pan fried rice with salad dressing stirred thru with peas, spring onion, cooked carrot, corn kernels etc)

    - Potato salad with bacon

    - air popped popcorn

    - 1/2 avocado with cracker (or a spoon!)

    - Cherrios!

    - Cinnamon Scrolls (or a variation from Annabel Langbeins Free Range Cookbook)

    - Homemade cheese straws

    - Ham and cheese danish (Use frozen pastry top with slice of cheese and ham then fold in the sides and cook)

    - cubes of ham, cheese and pinepple on kebab sticks

    - fresh fruit on kebab sticks

    • Jacqui Lockington

      Great tips here. Thank you so much for sharing them. I am going to try some of those out both in the holidays and when school starts up again in the new year!