Send them back to school with the right fuel
How to make packed lunches nutritious – and fun... School meals are currently a hot topic. There is no debate that children learn more efficiently and behave better if they are well fed, but while I wholeheartedly support the drive to improve the nutritional standards in schools, many fall short and that is one reason why some parents opt for packed lunches.
There are other reasons: queues to be served food may mean children waiting for 30 minutes of a 45-minute or so lunch break. At one school, the (originally good) food now has to be brought in early, as there is no kitchen on site. After congealing for two hours it is ‘disgusting’, according to a colleague’s daughter. Other children have food allergies or intolerances that make it difficult for them to have school meals (find out more at www.foodsmatter.com). However, many packed lunches are deficient in essential nutrients. So with help from nutritionist Jenny Tschiesche, the founder of www.lunchboxdoctor.com, we have put together some essential tips (below). And, of course, they are equally relevant for grown-ups taking lunch to work.
• For balanced nutrition, include carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice, potatoes), protein (eggs, fish, meat, pulses), calcium (yoghurt, cheese), seeds, veg, fruit and lots of still water.
• Encourage children to learn about food with the fab pop-up book Nibble Gobble Munch by Professor Charles Clark and Maureen Clark (£14.99, Clark Books, available from www.clarkbooks.co.uk) – parents say it teaches them a few things, too.
• Sandwiches are perennial favourites: bread makers are an easy and low-cost way to make fresh loaves, and you can fortify them with oils, seeds and nuts.
• Fill sandwiches with sliced home-cooked gammon, grated cheese or carrot, egg mayonnaise, tinned tuna, smoked salmon or chicken breast.
• Get children to make their own sushi: line an egg cup with clingfilm then a layer of smoked salmon or asheet of nori (dried seaweed), leaving enough to wrap over; fill with cooked sushi rice seasoned with Clearspring Organic Sushi Rice Seasoning/£3.99 for 150 ml from www.clearspring.co.uk - buy here - and more salmon or raw vegetables, if wished.
• Make hummus (quick, easy and nutrient-dense) and serve with Kallo breadsticks, savoury rice cakes, cherry tomatoes, mini sweetcorn, sugar-snap peas and sticks of carrot, celery, cucumber or pepper.
• Make home-made soups or stews with cheap seasonal veg, adding tofu, lentils or any leftover meat; freeze in portions, then heat and put in a flask.
• Cook jacket potatoes, keep in the fridge, then microwave before school (with baked beans, if liked) and put in a wide-necked food flask. Take grated cheese and a knob of butter in a separate box.
• Make mixed salads with protein rich edamame (soy) beans or quinoa.
• Thread kebab sticks with vegetables and cheese, or fruit.
• Mix cashews (buy big bags when they are on offer) and dried fruit, eg, cranberries or blueberries.
• Pop in peel-your-own fruit (eg, tangerines), pomegranate seeds, washed berries or grapes, slices of melon, mango, pineapple or apple.
• Make home-made fruit purée inbatches, freeze in small pots and add to unsweetened natural yoghurt.
PICK OF THE LUNCH BUNCH
A good lunch box with lots of containers, a water bottle, plus a thermos flask for hot food is very helpful. Clara Denny, nine, road-tested options for YOU...
• Nude Food Movers Rubbish-Free Lunch Box - BPA-free with neoprene cover and 500 ml water bottle/£20, from www.johnlewis.com. Clara says: ‘Easy to carry, and to open and close. It kept the food nice and cool and separate. My mum’s favourite because of the removable dividers (no need for clingfilm) so I get lots of different goodies.’
• Sistema 2.57L Quaddie Coloured Lunch Box - BPA-free with small water bottle/£8.64, from www.amazon.co.uk. Clara says: ‘I like this best because it’s smaller and fits in my school bag but still has lots of compartments – for lots of food! All my friends have them and they are really cool.’
• Grunwerg Pioneer 0.5L 12-Hour Food Flask/£12.40, from www.amazon.co.uk. Clara says: ‘It’s neat but you can fit lots in – a whole tin of soup or pasta and pesto. You can use the top as a bowl and it fits inside my cool bag with my other lunch things.’