Ah, holidays… How I love you so! Endless days of surf, sun and sand: easy salad meals and fish-and-chip takeaways, late nights with later mornings and rhythm and roster thrown out the window. I used to dread the return to school with its shoelace tying, regimental checking of tooth-brushing and the almost-out-the-door sunblock slather, the dreary routine of homework and frantic transporting to after-school activities… But most of all I stressed about what to pack for lunch.
In the early days I used to pack too much food. Our boy would come home from school and be so upset that he hadn’t been able to finish everything before the play bell rang. I asked why he didn’t just continue eating his food after the bell? He looked at me like I was crazy and said No way! I’ll miss out on sandpit time!
In the first year of school our girl would come home and complain that the teachers said the children must eat everything in their lunchboxes and that they would inspect each box before play. I said why don’t zip up your box and pretend you’ve eaten it all? But that would be LYING MUMMY she said. And lying’s BAD! Good grief, I said.
But then I slowly worked it out: Firstly not to pack too much. There’s a BIG difference between taking your children out for the day to the zoo, or driving down the coast on the holidays or even taking them to the beach for a few hours, where they will demand constant snacks and bits of fruit and drinks of water and little packets of rice crackers or tiny teddies, or mummy can we get sushi or icypoles or Peckish or Mentos or a lollipop pleeeeeeease? At school the children are so busy that they’re not bored enough to want lots of food – and nor are the teachers slaves to every whim like we seem to be – so they don’t need a snack for every half hour! A couple of different types of raw veggie and fruit, and a piece of cheese are ideal. A little pot of rice crackers or Jatz, or popcorn made at home in a big quantity with a little oil and pinch or two of salt and even a sprinkle of smoked paprika or ground coriander if that suits your fancy will last for a while and make it in to a few days’ worth of lunchboxes.
Second in my Book of Lunchbox Revelations was the news that the main lunch itself didn’t have to be too much of a mission either. My kids love taking pasta to school and will happily eat it every day, and even if it’s cold. I know, what a win! So I like to make fresh pesto or a herby tomato pasta sauce and toss it over penne or shells – long pasta like spaghetti or linguine always gets extremely messy with my kids and will most definitely end up all down the front of a school dress or shirt, especially if it’s brand new and spanking white. I invested in a couple of small Thermos pots – not the cheapest container on the market but they hold hot food or even runny soup without leaking, and the cost per use in our house has so far brought the cost down to about nought point three cents a go! Wraps or rice paper rolls are good too, made with grated cheese and avocado and ham slices or roast chicken or tinned tuna, or whatever’s in the damn cupboard! To make packing easy, I roll one into a square of plastic wrap and fold in all the edges until it’s a tight tube, and then cut it across the middle so that I have 2 easy small tubes to pack, and it’s easy for the kids to peel open and eat.
Thirdly, The Oracle spoke to me of easy-opening boxes and tubs, and lunchboxes that fit a water bottle in (more on that later). Make sure your child can open what they’ve got! Otherwise they’re waiting in line with twenty other kids for the teacher to crack open their packaged snack. My pet hate: the sucky yoghurt packs. Those little plastic tops are IMPOSSIBLE for little children to open by themselves, and they end up dropped all over the playground (the lids, not the kids) – and no doubt will still be spinning around in the South Pacific Gyre for decades to come… and don’t let me talk about the sugar content in those things! Or the fact it’s getting sucked straight onto their front teeth.
Next point: vital water. A great idea is to chuck their water bottle into the freezer overnight, so your kids will have super-chilled, refreshing water to drink during the day, and the bottle performs the double-act of keeping their food fresh, cool and safe too. Kids do not need flavoured milk or packaged juice.
Also while you’re there, think Nude Food and use the re-useable boxes that come in all lunchboxes nowadays. Instead of buying individually portioned sultanas, crackers, biscuits or the dreaded yoghurt, grab a big value box, decant into your little screw-lid pots and save on all the trips to the recycle bin!
And lastly don’t forget that when your child sees you at the end of their school day, they will suddenly remember that you are their servant/ butler/ slave and will immediately demand a snack equivalent to all the snacks they’ve missed out on during the day… so act like the Girl Guides and Be Prepared!
Mel’s top tips for a sane lunchbox life:
Recess – 1 or 2 from each category
- Veggies: carrot, celery or cucumber sticks, cherry tomatoes
- Crackers: Rice crackers, Jatz, popcorn, seaweed sheets
- Wedge of cheese, babybel etc
- Hummus or taramasalata spooned into a little pot
- Fruit: Passionfruit or kiwifruit cut in half and popped in a little pot. Whole apples. Orange slices. Cherries and grapes. Bananas. Watermelon slices. Little chunks of pineapple. Real fruit!
- Pasta with veggies or tomato sauce, pesto, Bolognese
- Soup in winter months, in a thermos-like safe pot
- Fried or steamed rice with sauce as above
- Roasted cold chicken drumsticks or wings
- Wraps with ham, chicken, cheese, beetroot, salad etc
- Rice paper rolls with soaked noodles and veggies
- Sushi hand rolls
- Leftovers! And definitely order extra next time you’re at a Chinese restaurant…
The after-school activities or pick-up zone starvation madness – in bulk!
- Big box of popcorn – easy and cheap to make
- Big box of mixed fruit sliced up: fruit as above!
- The occasional treat – biscuits or small muffins
This article originally published on the Nutrikids website, Feb 2016