Now that the new school term is looming, many parents will be bracing themselves for the daily challenge of assembling a lunchbox for their kids that has the right balance of nutrition and excitement.
Kids are fussy eaters at the best of times and it can be too easy to stuff a lunchbox with packets of crisps and chocolate, particularly when you're short on time and haven't done the weekly shop yet.
So how do you come up with a lunchbox whose contents will be eaten with gusto whilst making the preparation as easy on yourself as possible?
Here are my top tips.
* Don't buy single loaves. If you can, buy a spare loaf or some bread rolls for the freezer.
* Prepare the lunchbox the night before and place in the fridge to keep fresh.
* Buy lunchbox staples in bulk and portion them up as soon as you get home. You can pop individual portions of snacks like trail mix into separate sandwich bags ready to drop in to the lunchbox to save time.
* a healthy lunch will keep your child alert and able to focus at school so try to include a variety of food types, fruit and veg, starchy food (for example wholemeal or granary bread), protein (sliced ham) and dairy (cheese). The best drink to pack is water.
Fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients essential for optimal health, whilst proteins are the building blocks of cellular growth which also help to balance blood sugar levels and keep us feeling fuller for longer.
* you can make things a little more interesting by packing each item separately so that the unwrapping creates a little fun, plus this helps keep food fresher.
* your freezer is your friend - there are plenty of places online to find lunchbox recipes you can freeze so that you could cook in bulk on a Sunday to be ready for the rest of the week.
Lunch box ideas you can freeze from Planningwithkids.com
25 Freezer Friendly Lunch Box Ideas from Childhood101
Freezer Friendly School Lunch Foods from Super Healthy Kids
* in hot weather you may need to include a ice pack to keep the food cool and in cold weather you could put a warming soup in a thermos.
* ring the changes by making sandwiches with different types of bread or substitute the sandwich for some pasta salad or a chopped vegetable salad with extra nuts and Chia seeds to add some extra Omega 3.
* Pots of Hartley's No Added Sugar Jelly are a great standby to pop in as a healthier sweet treat and at the moment if you collect 12 individual pots with the green promotional lids, you can exchange these for a fun bright yellow lunchbox and stickers for your child to create their own lunchbox with the Hartley's Lunchbox Collector Scheme.
* make sure that snack foods are as healthy as possible without relying on shop bought sugary treats. You could include a selection of things like hard boiled eggs, unsalted popcorn, a savoury scone, a granola bar, some yogurt, fruity jelly and some nuts and seeds.
Be careful with granola bars as some of these contain more sugar than a chocolate bar. A Hartley's No Added Sugar Jelly Pot is a better alternative with a banana or a small bunch of grapes.
The Hartley's No Added Sugar Jelly Pots come in strawberry, raspberry, blackcurrant, orange, apple and tropical flavours and contain just 6 calories per pot (great for those of us watching our weight too).
You may need to check that your school allows nuts to be included in case of allergies.
The key to a perfect kids' lunchbox is planning. Why not sit down with your child and draw up a list of their favourites. You could then create a lunchbox menu plan where your child gets to choose one item on their list each day if they also include one fruit or veggie choice. Caitlin, for example, loves olives and Ieuan loves carrot batons.
If you find that lots of food is coming back uneaten then it may be that your portion sizes are too large or you need a more interesting mix of foods (whilst still keeping to healthier choices of course).
Sometimes kids get so involved in what they are doing they simply forget to eat but if you are finding that all the snack food goes whilst the sandwiches and more filling food doesn't then it's time to reduce the snack elements until the sandwiches start to disappear.
There's no guarantee the local birds aren't being well fed of course but at least you'll be nearer to getting the balance right.
You could also involve your kids in the making of their sandwiches or snacks and get them to do it under your supervision.
You don't want to still be making their lunchboxes when they get to secondary school now, do you!
This post is an entry from BritMums #HartleysYourLunchbox Linky Challenge sponsored by Hartley's Jelly.