Try to set a good example with your own lunches and remember that lunch is only one of three meals a day, plus snacks. That means there's still plenty of opportunities to get them to eat a wide variety of foods that you would prefer they consume. Try to get them to eat a healthy breakfast, after school snack and dinner if it seems like your best efforts at providing a healthy and appetising lunchbox are going to waste.
Some kids love variety, and others will happily eat the same lunch every day for a whole term! The important thing is that you are providing, and hopefully they are eating, a balanced lunch. If you are blessed with a less than adventurous eater, don't worry too much about bombarding them with variety as long as they are eating a balanced lunch. Try new foods at home first, before sending them to school in the lunch box.
If you are having trouble getting lunches eaten, use peer pressure to your advantage. Find out what other kids have packed in their lunchboxes and use that for inspiration. Not only does it give you some good ideas for the lunchboxes you are packing, but it may encourage your child to try new and unfamiliar foods. This only works if their friends have balanced lunchboxes and not ones full of highly processed not-so-goodies.
Keep an ideas list handy on the fridge or pantry door. Sort it into a table format by sandwich fillings, sweet treats, savoury treats, and fruit. This is an easy way of keeping track of who likes what, especially if you have several children all with different likes and dislikes. Use pictures for younger children who aren't yet able to read.
Get your children to help prepare their lunch if time allows and if they're keen. They can plan their own menu from the options you provide. It's a good opportunity to talk about which are healthier food choices and why moderation is important.
Preparing healthy school lunches requires some forethought and planning. Children like lunch box choices that are quick to eat and not messy. A whole piece of fruit will be most likely be returned uneaten if it is bruised or battered. Put bite-sized fruit into small containers, peel satsumas, cut kiwifuit in half and don't forget to include a spoon.
Presentation goes a long way with kids. Healthy lunch box food is not expensive, but making it appetising to kids bombarded with advertising promoting the rustle of cellophane wrapped lunch box snacks, takes a little creativity and persuasion. Personalise their lunch and lunchbox. Use stickers to hold together the paper lunchwrap, or write little notes to include in the lunchbox as a neat lunchtime surprise for your child. Use stickers or fabric paint pens to decorate the outside of the lunchbox too.
Pack school lunches the night before and refrigerate overnight which saves a mad rush in the mornings. The food will stay cooler longer, especially if you're using an insulated lunchbox. Alternatively use a small frozen ice pack to keep the food chilled or freeze half a drink bottle of water and top it up with cold water in the morning. Add it to the lunchbox to help keep food cool.
Don't forget to buy some disposable plastic forks and spoons to save your kitchen cutlery going walkabout.
Sandwiches and Fruit
I vary the selection of sandwich based lunches by using rolls, pita, wraps, foccacia, crackers and even savoury scones. I tend to keep the fillings fairly simple. I often find my girls don’t like sandwiches stuffed with salad but will eat a fairly simple sandwich and then eat carrot sticks, cucumber sticks and some cherry tomatoes. It makes the lunch seem more interesting to them if there are lots of small bits and pieces.
If your child doesn't like wraps or rolls, you can make plain bread seem more interesting by using shaped cookie cutters. Either cut the whole sandwich into a shape or cut a shape into the top slice of bread to make a window. Use the shape you have cut out to put on another sandwich and "glue" it on with whatever filling is inside the sandwich.
You can also make club sandwiches by using 3 slices of bread and layering them. Using a couple of different types of bread looks fab, layering white bread and wholemeal.
Make pinwheel sandwiches our of bread or wraps – roll up long wise and slice like sushi – wrap them tightly in cling film or greaseproof paper to stop them from unravelling.
Fruit doesn't always have to be fresh, you can use canned or dried fruits as well. Just put the canned or dried fruit into containers or use store bought individual fruit pots.
Beyond fruit and sandwiches - Other lunch ideas
Rice paper parcels – filled with thin carrot strips, tahini, cucumber strips and noodles.
Falafels – use homemade falafels with hummus dip, or put them in pitas with hummus.
Mini cheesy vegetable frittatas – use sweetcorn, pre-cooked potato cubes, pre-cooked vegetables and cheese.
Risotto cakes – use leftover risotto rolled into balls. Put a little piece of ham or cube of cheese in the middle.
Pasta Salad or Rice salad – use a combination of basmati and brown rice or wholemeal pasta. Make up the salad using vegetables and dressings according to your tastes.
Popcorn mixed with dried fruit (Scroggin)
Homemade pikelets or pancakes with jam or Nutella in between as a sandwich, or pancakes rolled up.
Homemade pita, bagel or tortilla crisps with hummus or dip
Creamed rice in small pots (store bought or homemade)
Chunky cereal like Cheerios
Boiled egg - keep it in the shell to stop it smashing in your lunchbox.
Either cheese from a block cut into small shapes (using cookie/playdough cutters), or ready packaged pieces like Babybel.
Yoghurt in pots, pouches or tubes. You can put plain yohgurt in a container with berries, or a small spoonful of jam to flavour it if you prefer not to use kids yoghurts which can be high in added sugar.
Why aren't they eating their lunch?!
Lots of children bring their largely uneaten lunch home with them at the end of the day, which can be really frustrating. There may be a variety of reasons why your child does not eat some/all the food in their lunch box. With three daughters and many years of school lunch making, I've come across the following reasons:
The lunch box style – your child may have an issue with their lunch container. They might prefer a brown paper bag or want the latest fashion in lunch boxes to be like the other kids. It may be difficult for them to open.
Boredom or totally overwhelmed – try to pack a different lunch every day so kids don't get bored. However, resist the urge to put everything apart from the kitchen sink in their lunch. Too many choices or too much food can be overwhelming and daunting. For younger children, cut the sandwiches in different ways or shapes to add interest (see tips above). If your child's appetite seems small, offer smaller servings. Half a sandwich might be more appropriate than a whole one.
Too dry or too wet – if kids say sandwiches are too dry, try varying the fillings and leaving the sandwich uncut or package it differently. Some fillings like dips or peanut butter may stay fresher this way. Soggy sandwiches are dire! If you are using tomato, put it inbetween other fillings or skin and deseed it to prevent soggy sandwiches.
Fiddly and sticky – make sure the foods are manageable and easy to eat. Some children are put off by fiddly packaging or don’t like getting sticky hands. Fruit can be made easier to eat. See tips above.
I hope that you find these ideas, tips and pearls of wisdom useful. Please feel free to add others in the comments section.