LAST week millions of kids headed back to school and parents breathed a collective sigh of relief. That is unless you’re a mum or dad in charge of the packed lunches.
Whether you have fussy eaters or worry about the cost, it’s not easy to get kids eating healthily at lunchtime.
The thing is, children need a healthy and nutritious lunch to get the most out of their learning. The brain accounts for 20 per cent of the energy we need every day.
We burn calories simply thinking and learning but need to make sure we are fuelling the brain in the right way.
It needs food that is nutritious, balanced and healthy – the types of food that won’t leave young people suffering a huge sugar spike then inevitable crash.
While a healthy packed lunch that youngsters will love sounds like the Holy Grail of parenting, it’s not. A few simple ideas and swaps will help your little ones eat better and help you save money.
Firstly, parents need to factor in how much time they have to prep lunches.
If you can, do it while you’re making dinner. Grate or pulse some veg like carrots, peas or courgetti into a batter and make fritters.
Pasta salads are a great way to get some green into their lunchboxes and while it can be time-consuming, making a big batch can last the entire week.
If your child insists on you cutting up apples for them, you don’t have to shell out for the bagged ones wrapped in plastic that cost a fortune. Just cut up an apple, put it back together around the core and hold it in place with a rubber band. Sell it as an “apple jigsaw” and they’ll love it.
Several budget supermarkets have super offers with huge discounts, and lots of weekly deals on fruit and veg.
Even if it’s not where you do your main weekly shop, they’re worth seeking out.
Dish out treats sporadically
If you Google “coupons UK”, you get more than 386 million hits. Sign up to coupon sites and you can get free samples and huge reductions that will help to mix things up a bit.
Think about what you’re buying, too. A lot of what we pay for is the brand name. Supermarket own-brand stuff is usually just as good, at a fraction of the cost.
Instead of offering treats on one set day of the week, like a Friday, dish them out sporadically so there is no set rule. If repetition is boring for adults, it definitely is for kids.
Even if your child likes only one sandwich filling, mix up the breads, with pitta, wraps, sandwich thins, crackers and bagels.
Think about substitutions, too. Swap crisps for popcorn, fruit-juice cartons for fruit-infused water ones, processed meats for a roasted chicken at the start of the week.
You can save money (and plastic) on squeezable yoghurts, when you blend your own fruits with Greek yoghurt and put it in a clip-top pot, packed with a spoon.
Instead of buying packaged treats, make a sugar-free jelly and pour it into little pots to set in the fridge.
Also, it’s the oldest rule in the book, but get the kids involved, whatever their age.
Teens can make their own lunches and little ones can make some bakes on the weekend that they can eat during the week. We’re all more invested in food when we have made it. So even if you are short on time, get them to at least butter the bread or cut the pitta into strips.
There is a misconception bread is bad for you but it’s often fortified with calcium and iron and can be very versatile.
The only problem is the lack of fibre in the white variety, so try to maximise the fibre at home if your little ones will only eat white bread at school. Or work on gradually making a switch to wholegrains.
The next summer holidays are a long way off and making the packed lunches will take up hundreds of hours between now and then. So get a bit creative and you will hopefully have empty lunchboxes at the end of each day.