I don't know about you, but lunch boxes are a daily occurrence in our house. Times that by two, five days a week and throw in the odd day trip or a 'just in case the place we are visiting doesn't sell gluten free food' visit and you will probably agree that that is a lot of food preparation! Like most parents, I sometimes find myself getting into a bit of a rut. Either I'm sending out the same old things each day as I know they will eat it, or I start to worry that what I'm sending in is a bit too processed. Despite my childrens' protests that everybody else only takes chocolate spread sandwiches with a side of sweets (nice try!) , I do try to include some healthy options and allow for a bit of a treat. Over the years, I have learnt that you can't make everything from scratch and stay sane (well I can't anyway!) and my two like having a few bits that are the same as what everyone else is having. So this is what I tend to include:
Generally a smoothie or fruit juice of some description which in the summer can be frozen to make a nice slushy drink. I rather stupidly didn't buy lunch boxes that had drinks bottles attached, but if you prefer, a bottle of water is great or diluted squash. I am still on the hunt for cartons of milkshake which I like to include as an odd treat yet it seems that only some supermarkets sell these. Yogurt drinks are also a good idea.
Sandwiches and other ideas
Sandwiches every day can get pretty dull so try to keep a selection of different gluten - free bread in the freezer. Throughout the week we use pitta bread, brioche rolls and sandwich thins. This week I have sent them in with cheese scones, some cheese and chopped vegetables. The picture above shows a gluten-free version of Ritz biscuits. Cream crackers also work well and my son loves left over pasta or pizza in his lunch for a change.
There are so many options now, but I have spent weeks at a time sending out the same old ham roll! Try a variety of cooked meats (although be careful there isn't any gluten in the ingredients as we have been caught out with this), sausages, egg mayonnaise, tuna, jam, honey, marmalade, cheese and apple, cheese with grated carrot and mayonnaise, banana is always a favourite. cream cheese, left over roast meat, cheese and pickle (check the pickle!) or good old fashioned marmite.
Children today are so much better at eating their five a day and I find much more aware of what foods are good for them. Gone are the days when you took a chocolate covered biscuit for your snack (sighs wistfully) as break times are now where fruit or veg are the only option. Try the following ideas:
Whole fruit such as bananas and pears, a pot of mixed fruit such as satsuma and grapes, blueberries, strawberries, chopped kiwi fruits. Nectarines, peaches and plums are great in season. Also try dried fruit as there are so many options now other than raisins including blueberries and cranberries. These even come in handy packs to grab when you need them.
In our house, vegetables can often play a lovely game of vegetable tennis where they are sent to school and return six hours later ignored. I still refuse to not include them though and found that by getting my children to write a list of likes and dislikes we could avoid things being left untouched. Their favourite choices include large tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks and cucumber sticks, sweetcorn and corn on the cob. Other ideas you could try are grated carrot with a few raisins, mange tout and baby sweetcorn.
There are so many different calcium options out there and I am conscious that some readers also have children who are dairy intolerant. For the purpose of this article I will focus on dairy based items but I am certain that a dairy free alternative is available for those who need it. Cheese is the obvious choice here and most lunchboxes I pack include a cheese portion (try Babybel, Dairylea or individual sticks of cheddar), cottage cheese, yogurt. We often use yoghurt tubes, small pots of yoghurt or put yoghurt from a large pot into a lidded pot (make sure this won't spill though). Every so often I tend to include a rice pudding or custard pot and these seem to go down well. Isn't it funny how these don't come home uneaten next to the vegetable?
It's always nice to have something fun in your packed lunch isn't it? For this I keep things such as tortilla chips, popcorn or we have a small cake (either homemade or shop bought depending on time). Homemade flapjacks are great and easy to make, as are muffins and fairy-cakes. I will post a few recipes for these each Friday. Sweet popcorn can also be made more interesting with the addition of dried fruit, seeds or a few chocolate chips.
Making life easy
Things that make my life easier:
1. Keeping a selection of small tupperware pots. Simply grab, fill and off we go with the added bonus of being kinder to the environment. We even have them for the sandwiches.
2. Having a selection of sandwich bits in the cupboard at all times. Different types of bread (keep some in the freezer), juice cartons, cakes, snacks (Bear YoYos are still a favourite).
3. Planning the lunches with the weekly food shop. I don't plan a day by day menu, but try to pick up some different sandwich fillings, or bread types etc to the week before as this should hopefully add a bit of variety and stop you (and your children) getting too bored!
4. There are lots of useful websites to help you think of more interesting lunchboxes. Two of my favourites are https://www.netmums.com/back-to-school/lunchbox-ideas and eats amazing which has some really great lists if you are stuck.