2019 will be my 3rd year as a school Mum, and 5th year making lunches (including preschool in that calculation).
I know how challenging the school routine can be, and the slog we often go to in making our kids a packed lunch each day. It can get boring and frustrating when the boxes come home untouched.
I thought I would pop together this blog post to offer some of my ideas for lunch boxes. I know I am the TopKnot Girl, and many of you are only here for the TopKnot's, BUT I often share my recipes, lunch boxes ideas and other things we do/cook/eat on my Instagram stories and you all seem to enjoy it.
While I'm on the TopKnot train - here's a link to our "back to school" headband packs! They come in a range of classic (plain) school colours.
I recently put up a poll asking if you'd like me to do this blog post, and the consensus was a definite YES - so here it is.
Just making sure to add that I am just a Mum. I am not an expert or nutritionist by any means, and this blog post is purely a summary of what works for me and my family.
My Top Tips!
1. Use a good cooler pack
First up, I would totally recommend using a good cooler bag. I pack a lot of whole foods and each lunch needs to be kept cool.
When the kids were in preschool, they had a small fridge in each classroom, so we didn't need to worry.
Being a coastal area, it gets hot here, especially in the summer, and I don't want the lunches to get warm.
Mid way through 2017 I discovered "Cool Pod" lunch bags. I found one at Office Works randomly and liked the look of it so I gave it a go.
These cooler bags are a game changer. The entire pack goes into the freezer, and the cool packs are built into the bag. The 4 sides + top and bottom all have freezer packs sewn into them, and allow the lunch to stay cool all day. They are much easier to use and work much more effectively than the cooler bags that just require a loose ice brick to be packed inside. In the cooler months (Autumn/Winter) the uneaten food is as cold as it was when it left home, and in the warmer months (Spring/Summer) its still cool once it comes home from school (although I won't keep perishables even when they come home cool in the warmer months as I tend to freak out still a little!).
They give me peace of mind that the meats/cheeses/yoghurt will be safe and fresh when they get eaten at lunch time.
I got this years Cool Pod products from their website; here, and this year we have added some seperate Pouches for yoghurt tubs and squeeze packs to our Lunch cooler bags. The website is easy to navigate and the products arrive quickly too! Bonus!
2. Use a bento style lunch box
Our preschool had a "no wrapper" type policy and I found it a good way to get started on using "nude" foods or buying bulk/bigger packs of things and portioning them off for lunch (things like cheese and rice crackers).
Progressing onto primary school, not much has really changed. My son gets the odd packet of chips or treat, but we mostly pack similar things each week.
My favourite lunch boxes are the "Sistema" bento style box ("snack attack duo" pictured below - clear container with the coloured seals and llids). I got these from Spotlight (approx $8), and they offer a large area for a sandwich or pasta salad, and two smaller areas for snacks. The smaller compartments have little lids to keep things from falling out and mixing into the bigger compartment (think cubed cheese, nuts, bliss ball, dried fruit etc).
Another lunch box we have used is this Kmart one (full colour pastel box with darker full coloured lid - around $3) that I bought around 2 years ago now (not sure if they still have them but Tupperware has a similar one). These also have a bigger section with two smaller parts. The smaller parts don't have individual lids, just one lid that covers the whole box.
Both of these lunch boxes fit into the Cool Pod lunch bags.
Another brand we love is Tupperware. The rectangle shaped box is great but it won't fit into the freezer bag so I haven't used it for school, only preschool where we had the fridge.
I've also used the YumBox brand bento box, but I found the compartments to be too small and the unit as a whole to be too heavy. I also found them more expensive ($35 approx) to replace when dropped/broken or lost.
3. Send a range of foods
I like to send a range of things to eat.
Trial and error has told me that sending a few more options, but smaller portions of each keeps lunch more interesting and often helps more of the food to be eaten.
Kids often want to play and can rush or skip foods entirely as they get caught up chatting or playing with their friends. Ive also taught my kids to eat their "main" food first before any snacks/treats. This is up to them on the day to be trusted with so I don't know how often they obey this rule - haha!
My kids have favourite things that I know they will always eat. Yoghurt, avocado, rice crackers, carrot sticks, cheese, dip, nuts (our school allows nuts) and bliss balls are all regular things they love.
Only one child will eat a sandwich. The other won't. They will both eat wraps, pasta salad or zucchini slice.
Try and vary it up. One of my kids likes cucumber but the other doesn't. They still get it in their box sometimes just in hopes they may try it or even see a friend with cucumber too that might prompt them to eat it (they are only 5 and 8 so still young and often easily convinced).
Here’s a list of foods I use regularly;
Veggie sticks, fruit (melon, apples, banana, berries), small hommus dips, avocado 1/2, banana chips, rice cakes, rice crackers, nuts, dried fruit, wraps, mountain bread, Lebanese pocket breads, cheese and bacon rolls, yoghurt, squeeze purée, cheese slices/cubes/sticks/triangles (laughing cow), bliss balls, pasta, muffins, sandwiches cut into triangles or rolled like a wrap, savoury muffins, zucchini slice, fried rice, oat bars and crispbread.
Sorry if I’ve mentioned things more than once!
4. Do some batch cooking
I try and bake/make a few things on a Sunday afternoon for the week ahead.
Bliss balls, pikelets, slice, muffins, zucchini slice, chopped veggie sticks, oat slice, bars, toasted seeds, banana bread, rice slice, mini meatballs with grated veggies, pasta salad (cooked pasta with chopped ham, tinned corn, chopped tomatoes etc) and boiled eggs are regular things on my list.
Here are a few recipes we love;
Choc Zucchini Muffins - recipe is my own, from a previous blog post.
No Bake Choc Coconut Slice - recipe by My Lovely Little Lunchbox. I love so many of Kayla's recipes. I would totally recommend buying her e-book "Baking with Kids" as its got great recipes but also step by step tips to involve the kids in baking!
Pikelets - I've saved a few recipes to my Instagram saved stories "food/recipes" including this one. I use 1C SR flour, 1C Milk of choice and 1 egg. Whizz in a Thermomix or blender and cook in tablespoon portions. You can add oats, banana, seeds, berries, choc chips etc to vary it up.
Chicken and Rice Patties - recipe from Planning with Kids.
If you don't have a Thermomix and have been wanting one - I LOVE mine. I use it daily and get heaps out of it. I am always whipping up smoothies, meals and snacks in it and it's been great for our family and saves time!
5. Have some fun with Lunches!
Don't worry about it all too much. As long as the kids are getting a few healthy things in their diet, don't sweat the small stuff.
If you run out of time, use the canteen or call past bakers delight for cheesy scrolls on the way to school. We all do it and need to do it, because we are human!
It won't hurt them to have the same thing each day if thats all you've got/got energy for! They are kids and they don't really care for gourmet snacks and food in the shape of flowers!
Have fun, have a try, cook some things and see what comes home eaten!
I hope you all have a safe and happy New Year and a fun 2019! It's going to be a good one!
Feel free to leave a comment below or message me on social media with any feedback! I'd love you to share this blog with a friend too!
Please note, this blog post isn't sponsored, nor have I been paid by any brands to share their items. The lovely staff at Cool Pod Kindly gifted me a few items to use this year, after I contacted them about an online purchase. I had already been using their products which I purchased myself.
Take care, Holly + team TopKnot! x