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As its almost the start of the school year I got thinking about kid’s lunchboxes and how to make them better to help learning, behaviour and mood.  Here’s my quick 5 point guide to breads & wraps, sandwich fillings and fork lunches, ready made lunches and sweet stuff.   Start with small changes so there’s less chance of lunchboxes coming home uneaten.   It helps if you are also making changes to breakfasts and family meals to better support health and vitality.  Research shows that when children get involved in the preparing of food, they eat it much more willingly.  So if there’s any chance you could involve your child in making, say a wholemeal pasta salad, or helping you mash a sandwich filling on a Sunday before the start of the school week, that could be a winner…

1. Switch to wholegrains
Making the change from white sliced pan to brown could be as simple as starting with a sandwich made with a slice of brown on the bottom, and a slice of white on the top layer.  Try a halved brown pita bread instead of white for a handy pocket into which to stuff fillings.  If you like to cook, get my basic sandwich wrap off this blog and make a few to store in the fridge or freezer.   Wholegrain crackers such as Nairn’s rough oatcakes or miniature oatcakes are a winner too, if your child prefers something dry.  And remember, any slightly unusual ingredients are to be found on the “larder and shopping” section of this blog.

2. Add high quality, protein-rich fillings for your wholemeal bread, wrap, pita or pasta/rice base
The following will support long-lasting energy and learning after lunch.

  • Mashed drained, tinned salmon mixed with a little chopped cucumber.  Salmon is full of brain-enhancing omega 3 oils to help learning and mood
  • Light Philadelphia, fresh ricotta (even sweeter and better for you), or cottage cheese blitzed in the food processor (to get rid of lumps) mixed with some finely chopped cucumber and sweet red peppers
  • Make a creamy tuna filling by mixing 1 dessertspoon of extra virgin olive oil with 3 spoons of natural yoghurt in a bowl to make a sauce.  Mix together a drained tin of tuna (tinned in brine or spring water rather than oil), some finely chopped cucumber and a de-seeded chopped tomato and maybe a little finely chopped red onion.  This well depend on what your child likes.  Add in enough of the sauce to bind it all together.  If your child can’t stand lumps, leave out the veggies and try them as maybe a few cucumber sticks or carrot sticks on the side.
  • Leftover cooked chicken or beef, shredded or sliced, with the same sauce/veggies as above  or mixed with red pesto, a little extra virgin olive oil, and the veggies.
  • You can also mix the tuna, cheese or chicken with leftover wholemeal pasta shapes and put into a box for an older child to eat with a fork.
  • On a Sunday or a day off, take 5 minutes with your kids to make my ultra easy chickpea salad or my super quick butter bean salad – stuff into a wrap or wholemeal pitta or add some cooked leftover brown rice, brown pasta, quinoa or millet for a fork lunch.  If your kids get involved, they are 100% more likely to eat the results!!  These lunches are incredibly good value and fantastic for learning and mood as beans and pulses are rich in magnesium.
  • Buy some wooden kebab sticks in the supermarket or Asian shop.  Cut up bite size pieces of cucumber, sweet red/yellow pepper, cherry tomatoes, and bought-in felafels (chick pea patties from health stores or Halal shops) or pieces of cooked chicken.  Thread on the sticks.  If you end up with a bit more time, make up a spicy sauce from half a cup of natural yoghurt mixed with a little crushed garlic for older children to dip the kebabs into and put in a little plastic container in the lunchbox.

3. Even shop-bought lunches can be better quality
All the ideas below contain high quality protein for sustained energy and learning:

  • A whole tub of shop bought humous, a cellophane-wrapped pack of Nairn’s rough oatcakes, some vegetable sticks and a couple of mandarins, plums (for older children) or an apple.  Surprisingly, raw red peppers, carrots, cucumber, even celery are more appealing to kids than limp cooked veg! – start with one or two in the lunchbox, don’t comment if it comes back uneaten, just keep putting it in – this approach often yields results)
  • A tub of 3 bean salad from the supermarket deli counter or a bean-based salad from M&S, a piece of fresh fruit, plus and maybe a brown roll/bread for bigger appetites
  • For real emergencies, have a stash of John West Light Lunches in the cupboard for an older child with a bigger appetite.  These are next to the tinned fish in supermarkets. The best choice is the Mexican style tuna salad because it contains beans instead of white rice.   A piece of fresh fruit alongside makes an OK lunch thats very tasty.    These even come with a handy fork.

5. Something sweet
If your child is really not content with a piece of fruit as their something sweet, then some of the following are healthier alternatives to sweets and sugary snacks.  Bear in mind that for high quality sweet treats you need to spend either time or money.  Expensive ingredients cost more to manufacturers than cheap low quality ones.  In the next few weeks I will be putting up some recipes for flapjacks and bar..  Just enter your email in the side bar this blog to get notified when I post a new recipe.  Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Baby Organix biscuits and munch bars from supermarkets – these are sweetened with fruit juice instead of sugar.
  • Nak’d Bars from health stores are fantastic quality
  • Fruitas bars from health shops are good too
  • Home-made flapjacks sweetened with raw cane molasses or xylitol instead of regular sugar and using wholemeal flour instead of white.  I will be posting some flapjack recipes in the coming weeks.
  • 1-2 dried no-soak dates from the supermarket
  •  1-2 unsulphured apricots from the health stores for a chewy burst of sweetness
  • A few sundried banana chips from health stores or Dublin Food Co-Op (see larder section of this blog for Coop details)