It’s back to school time and the ideal chance to settle into a new routine for school lunches.
With just a little preparation, sending the kids off to school with a lunchbox full of tasty (and healthy) food is about to get a whole lot easier. Gone are the days of getting up an hour early to cut crusts off sandwiches and divide a bag of chips – thanks to our lunchbox hacks, the kids will be able to open the fridge themselves each morning and grab the sustenance they need for the day.
Here are five of our top tips.
1. Prepare the night before while making dinner
If there’s one golden rule for stress-free school lunches, it’s preparation. Time is scarce when you’re a parent, especially when trying to keep the kids on track during their morning routines – there’s hair to comb, teeth to brush, beds to make and breakfast to eat.
That’s why getting lunch organised the night before makes life a lot easier. While you’ve already got the chopping boards and cutlery out for dinner, take a few extra minutes prepping extra veggies for snacks and extra portions of dinner, which kids can take for leftovers the next day. When you serve dinner, add those portions directly into your Tupperware and pop them in the fridge for the next day. You’ll thank yourself in the morning.
2. Organise your storage space
This is where the lunchbox hacks really begin. Take the food, snacks and drinks you’ve prepared or grabbed from the shops and divide them between the kids in small reusable containers. Label and refrigerate the containers in separate trays, one each for recess, lunch and snacks.
With their food and snacks laid out in the fridge, hungry hands won’t have any problem packing their own lunchboxes before school – they can just open the door, grab a container from each tray, pop it all in their lunchbox or cooler and drop it into their backpacks.
3. Make your healthy options more appealing
Healthy lunches can be hard work, especially compared to the ready-made snack packs that dominate the chips and yoghurt aisles at the supermarket. But they don’t have to be. If your kids only like eating their fruit chopped up, but won’t take a bite if it’s started to brown, there are a couple of hacks you can employ to keep their fruit fresh.
Try pre-cutting an apple, and then putting it back together with a rubber band. Another tip for apples, is to place the cut-up slices into a tightly-sealing container or mason jar and fill the container with water. The apple won’t be able to oxidise because oxygen – which causes browning through oxidisation – cannot reach the apple’s surface. For oranges, keep them sweet by pre-slicing the skin in one spot – the natural form of the orange slices within will open up neatly for your kids when they peal from the sliced area.
If your kids need a little extra incentive to chomp down on fruit, this ‘Notella’ hazelnut spread recipe has no artificial flavours, while these muesli balls made with only dates and two other ingredients are sure to be a hit in the schoolyard. Pick up what you need from Coles or Aldi, so you can control exactly what’s going into your kids’ mouths without compromising on flavour.
4. Embrace food on sticks
If it’s practical lunchbox solutions you’re after, look no further than food on a stick. From fruit kebabs to satay chicken (perhaps from the night before’s dinner?) and wholegrain corn dogs, something about food being on a stick just seems to make it taste better – not to mention the space-saving advantages of stacking these handy meals in the lunchbox. As well as fruit, you can try a cherry tomato, mozzarella and basil combo, or grilled vegies with an accompanying dip.
Kebabs and similar stick-based foods are convenient for adults too, which means the whole family can take the same lunch with them to work and school. For the schoolyard, switch out the skewers for cocktail straws – they’re cheap, colourful and just the right size for a lunch box.
5. And above all, make lunch fun
There’s nothing more deflating than going to the trouble of planning a school lunch, only for the kids to return home with a half-eaten sandwich and an appetite for unhealthy snacks before dinner. Bento box-style lunch boxes are becoming all the rage these days and hold a level of novelty for kids. It easily separates cut up vegies or fruit – no more tomato making sandwiches soggy – as well as cheese, crackers and nuts. You can also jazz up individual lunch snacks – like using boiled egg moulds with faces on them or sandwich stamps with your kids favourite fictional characters on them. No 7-year-old could resist the Bat Signal on the ham, cheese and tomato sammy.
Getting the kids involved by helping out in the kitchen, or packing their own lunchboxes from what they discover in the fridge each morning, is also a great way to make school lunch a fun food experience. You’ll be sure to have a well-fed child – and a more relaxed parent, too.
Aldi and Coles have a great range of healthy food options for school lunches, as well as all the plasticware and ingredients you’ll need to whip up a delicious lunch in the kitchen each evening.