With school returning this week, the thing I’m dreading most is school lunches. My eight-year-old son would like something “interesting and different every day” and my four-year-old son complains if he gets anything but a Vegemite sandwich. I find both requests painful as while I lack inspiration and time most mornings, I would like to give them something reasonably nourishing.
Last year the boys had a ham sandwich and muesli bar packed in their bag more days than I care to admit. The problem with ham is that it’s high in salt. Two slices of ham contain about 640mg of sodium. The bread adds another 224mg. The Heart Foundation recommends a daily intake of 300mg-600mg of sodium for four to eight year olds, so one ham sandwich already tips the scales. Add some crackers and that’s a lot of salt. On the upside, this sandwich has a good dose of protein, some fibre and a few vitamins and minerals, particularly if you opt for wholegrain bread. So the occasional ham sandwich is fine. If you can get away with using avocado for a spread instead of butter, even better.
This year I’ve done a bit of research on some healthy options that I think the boys will eat and I will have the time to make.
Leftovers: Chicken schnitzel, roast lamb, meatballs and tuna patties are all great sandwich fillers. Whack in some salad greens if you can and you have a healthy and filling lunch.
Fruit fight: If it’s a battle to get your kids to eat fruit, try a small fruit skewer with something like a marshmallow in the middle. Blueberry muffins (made in advance and frozen) are another option, and frozen grapes may also be a hit.
Grazers: If your kids don’t mind carrot, cucumber or celery, cut the vegetables up into sticks and pack them with a little pot of dip like hummus, tzatziki or baba ghanoush.
Bored of sandwiches? Rice cakes with dip or a spread, homemade or store bought sushi, a frozen tub of yoghurt, leftover chicken nuggets or rice paper rolls are great options.
Egged: Eggs are a great source of protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins. Leftover frittata, egg and mayonnaise sandwiches or pancakes with a smear of jam are ways to include eggs in the lunchbox.
Freeze: The amazingly organised parents I know make five days worth of sandwiches on the weekend and freeze them. Bread, Vegemite, peanut butter, cheese and meat all freeze well. Muffins and pikelets are also good to freeze if you are feeling particularly domestic.
Tuna or salmon sandwich: My kids will not touch the stuff but tuna or salmon mixed with a bit of mayonnaise are great, healthy lunchtime options. Fish improves brain function and is loaded with healthy fats and lots of nutrients. Choose a tuna or salmon that is packed in water for the healthiest option.
Pasta leftovers: These are one of the meals that taste fine at room temperature the next day. For hygiene reasons, avoid meat and go for a vegetarian pasta like pesto.
Food safety: Unless your kids can store their lunch in a refrigerator, it’s a good idea to pack it with a frozen drink or an ice pack, particularly if rice, pasta, meat, eggs or cheese are involved.