My two have school dinners but occasionally I am required to rustle up that nutritional challenge known as ‘the lunchbox’. If you don’t prepare one regularly and aren’t a pro at assembling something Bento-style which is Instagram worthy and would find favour with Jamie Oliver, then you’ll experience the heart-sinking moment when you receive the school trip form which instructs you to provide a ‘packed lunch’.
I briefly consider whether jam sandwiches are actually an acceptable alternative to something involving seeds, nuts and a rather hefty boost to my Clubcard points.
Yes, you can exchange these for more pizza but that’s not really the point, is it?
So for Caitlin, it’s usually a Ham and Tomato sarnie, a packet of crisps and something with too much sugar wrapped in too much plastic.
Ieuan will eat any sandwich as long as it’s Peanut Butter and Banana. Or Ham if there’s a full moon rising in Pisces (picky, Ieuan? Never!).
But, if you are a poor lunchbox packer, then you’re not alone. Recent research commissioned by Flora revealed that a paltry 1.6% of children’s lunchboxes meet school food national standards and only 1 in 5 lunchboxes, just 17%, contain any sort of vegetables or salad.
I’d add, given Ieuan’s fear of anything green, that you have to wonder how many of the veggies and salads in that 17% actually get eaten.
To do something about the nation’s below-par lunchbox packing, Flora has distributed 631,000 lunchboxes with handy recipe planners to retailers across the UK to help make packing lunches an easier task for parents, especially those with picky eaters.
We were sent one of these cute lunchboxes which contain some easy to make recipes to try out on the kids and a menu planner (the lunchbox builder) which shows you which items to add to vastly improve your nutritional score.
Flora suggests four combinations named after dinosaurs (who were all plant-eaters apparently). There’s the T-Rex Lunchbox for monster appetites, the Florasaurus Lunchbox for herbivores, the Velociraptor Lunchbox (a beast of a lunch) and the Stegosaurus Lunchbox (the epic size lunch).
Each combination contains the best mix of carbs, protein, dairy, fruit and veg and healthy fats, in the form of Flora Spreads which are a lower saturated fat alternative to butter and provide a source of the essential Omega 3 and 6 fats that are needed to support the normal growth and development of children.
Flora comes in a range of tasty varieties – Flora Original, Flora Lite, Flora Buttery and Flora Freedom which is dairy-free. We tried the Original and Lite varieties.
But you don’t have to go for sandwiches – sometimes it’s good to think outside of the lunchbox (sorry).
Flora suggests Pasta Tossed with Tuna and Fresh Herbs, Chicken Pittas or how about an Egg, Mayo and Pepper Wrap or something more exotic such as a Moroccan Couscous Salad?
And you could be a little more inspired with your fruit choices than just an apple – how about a small pot of fruit salad or a fruit kebab? You could include some banana bread or flapjack which are both easy enough to make yourself.
How to pack a healthier lunchbox
Here are a few extra tips:-
*Buy bread and rolls in bulk and keep some in your freezer for emergencies.
*Prepare the lunchbox the night before and place it 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 into 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. 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.
* The best drink to pack is water.
*Add some extra interest by packing each item separately so that the unwrapping creates a little fun, plus this helps keep food fresher.
*Use your freezer – batch cook on a Sunday so that you are ready for the rest of the week.
*In hot weather include ice packs to keep food cool and in cold weather why not add some warming soup in a thermos.
*Make sure that snack foods are as healthy as possible without relying on shop-bought sugary treats. Better choices include hard-boiled eggs, unsalted popcorn, a savoury scone, a granola bar, some yoghurt, fruity jelly and some nuts and seeds.
Be careful with granola bars as some of these contain more sugar than a chocolate bar.
Healthy doesn’t have to mean boring when it comes to lunchboxes. A little preparation and planning go a long way when it comes to giving your child a lunchbox that tastes good, does them good and comes back empty!