Just the word ‘packed lunch’ is enough to conjure up feelings of dread for me; soggy sandwiches, bashed brown bananas, boring biscuits and a bottle of luke warm water… and the next day, and the next! However, now I am on the other end of the packed lunch saga, I can confidently say it is as boring for the packed lunch-packer as the packed lunch-eater!
We all have a repertoire of approximately three sandwich fillings, a choice of two biscuits, maybe three different potential fruit combinations, and that's about it. All inspiration gone on both sides!
So, I am here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be like this! Let's reignite the magic of a packed lunch, so it's fun to make and fun to open, with a sense of wonder and great anticipation at what delicious surprises may await.
School packed lunches are so important. Our kids need nourishing and feeding on great food in order to absorb and retain information and have sufficient energy to run around the playground when needed. However, it must also provide a stable, constant and manageable supply of energy to ensure that when they need to learn, they aren’t climbing the walls on a sugar high.
So much has been done (thank you Jamie Oliver, amongst others!) to improve this in recent years. Our kids, however, could always eat better.
A really important mission for me is inspiring youngsters with food. Getting kids excited about different foods and flavours will go a long way to creating a generation who not only want to better nourish themselves, but also enjoy it and are interested in it. So how do we make school packed lunches more exciting?
Think outside of the (sandwich) box!
Think pasta salad, noodle salad, rice salad, cold roasted vegetables, Spanish omelettes and so on. Here, I'm aiming to give you a little inspiration with a few recipes to inject new life into the dreaded packed lunch! Pick one from each box and combine to make a healthy, balanced and delicious lunch, for you and for your kids!
Box 1 – the starchy carbs (replacing the sandwich)
Flatbread wrapped wheels
These look so pretty and, if you experiment with different fillings, you get all sorts of colours coming through. Flatbreads are a bit thicker than tortillas - look out for them in the supermarket or local bakery. Try spreading them with hummous as the glue and then add in some slices of cooked beetroot, grated carrot and perhaps some lettuce, spinach or watercress for a little green! Roll up, then slice into wheels and pack into the lunch box.
A bit like fajitas, everyone loves wrapping up their own parcel! Opt for the small sized wholemeal tortillas, stuff with whatever you have to hand then fold into a small package, tucking the ends under to avoid spillage. Here are some ideas for scrumptious fillings:
- Cream cheese and smoked salmon with cucumber ribbons (use a vegetable peeler);
- Butter beans with a little harissa paste mixed into some hummous and bulked out with tomatoes, red onions (if your child can digest these easily), grated carrot and spinach;
- Leftover roast chicken, in a mild mustard and natural yoghurt sauce, with any leftover roast vegetables or salad;
- Tinned tuna mixed with a little mayonnaise and lots of chopped cherry tomatoes and mashed avocado, all wrapped up in a parcel.
Cooking a large Spanish omelette is a great way to feed a few heads for lunch the following day. My favourite recipe is a simple one using just onions, sliced potatoes and eggs. A large slice of this, wrapped in baking paper, is perfect for a lunch box, with some crunchy crudités to add colour and extra vitamins and minerals.
Most people cook too much rice! Instead of just spreading the extra over the plates during dinner, keep a portion aside and use this for lunch. Add some feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumber and a creamy yoghurt dressing and you have a delicious rice salad. Add in anything you want really - get creative!
Similar to rice salad, keep the leftovers and turn them into a substantial salad for the next day. Why not throw in some snipped up smoked salmon, chopped hardboiled eggs, baby spinach leaves and some chopped cherry tomatoes for a colourful and healthy lunch?
Although pastry shouldn’t be an everyday food item, when cooked well with good ingredients it often becomes healthier than a jacket potato loaded with cream and cheese. What's more it is extremely portable and just as good hot or cold.
Try the following...
- Roll out a few small squares, bringing the edges up to create a crust and pop on a baking tray.
- Prick with a fork and put your oven on to Gas Mark 6/200ºC/180ºC Fan.
- Spread with a base, either tomato puree, mustard mixed with crème fraiche or just crème fraiche on its own.
- Now add your toppings - anything goes! I love some goats' cheese and cherry tomatoes, but other combinations that work well are beetroot and feta cheese, ham and pineapple (for lovers of the Hawaiian pizza), leftover sausages and thinly sliced fennel, tuna and red pepper, courgette, tomato and cheddar… and the list goes on.
Try out a few new ones and let us know which get the seal of approval, either from you, your other half or your little ones!
A super-fast option that you can do in the morning. Cover with boiling water and then add in a selection of salad bits and fish/meat/beans.
Box 2 – replacing the crisps
Instead of packets of crisps, why not try using one of these inventive ideas instead?
Popcorn can be flavoured with a variety of spices, sauces and herbs to become a moreish and healthy snack for little and large alike.
Toasting pumpkin and sunflower seeds, with a little soy sauce, is a wonderfully nutritious and delicious snack - they won't last long, I guarantee!
Warning: steady hand needed (or a good food processor with a slicing attachment!). Slice apples crossways so that you end up with lots of thin discs. If you have a corer then use this first. They'll need to be baked slowly for at least two hours on Gas Mark 6/200ºC/180 ºC Fan, and flipped occasionally, until no longer moist. For an extra kick, sprinkle with cinnamon before putting them in the oven.
This is the surprise one! Tear kale leaves off the woody stems, rub with a little oil (I like to use coconut oil), and bake in the oven for 10 minutes until it goes crispy. Be careful, as it burns very quickly and vanishes into a sad, small pile of ash within seconds. An entire bag will make crisps for 2-3 lunch boxes.
Box 3 – the baked healthy treat
Forget chocolate covered biscuits! Try making some of these easy tray bakes. They will provide both energy and lots of wonderful nutrients. The recipes can be found in the Switch nutrition database, so either click on one of the items below or search for bakes and cakes on the site.
- Banana and nut bread
- Wholemeal blueberry muffins
- Oatmeal and raisin cookies
One of these, wrapped up in paper and tied with a little string, is a lovely surprise to keep anyone, big or little, going all afternoon through the 3pm slump.
So, there you go! Hopefully there are some new ideas here to re-inspire and re-excite you about the potential of the humble packed lunch.
Send us your favourite packed lunch recipes and let us know which tips you found useful.