School lunches: How to build a healthy lunch-box your kids will eat

School is coming, ready or not, and it’s time for parents as well as kids to get ready. Herald reporter (and mum) Kirsty Wynn offers a practical guide to what you need to know. Today: Lunches.

It’s been bliss, hasn’t it?

Weeks with no school lunches to make, no agonising over what to pack, then the frustration of having your well-thought-out lunch returned untouched apart from a few crackers and the contraband sweet treat.

So how do you ensure your kids are well-fed during the day at school and make that lunch a little more fun and less of a chore?

Once you have navigated school policy around banned foods, allergies, sweet treats and waste here are some tips:

Invest in a good lunch-box:

Bento style boxes or chiller bags with various containers can turn leftovers and whatever you have in the pantry into an appetising and tasty lunch.

Keeping cheese away from crackers and fruit away from the filled roll means both items remain edible and not reduced to a soggy mess when the lunch bell rings.

Auckland mum and “The Lunchbox Queen” owner Lynley Edwards started importing and selling bento boxes in 2014 when plastic-wrap became a dirty word. Waste-free lunches are now the norm with packets and wrap banned or sent home for disposal.

The Lunchbox Queen stocked reusable yoghurt pouches, reusable sauce and mayo bottles and refillable soy sauce bottles and included a blog and photos of easy and healthy lunch-box ideas.

“Bento boxes used to be quite shallow so they really were just for “pick ‘n’ mix” style lunches, but now there are options for parents packing the more traditional type lunches with space for whole sandwiches, whole apple and a container of yoghurt while still having the benefits of being leak-proof and air-tight.”

That said any container will do – as long as it has food in it.

Unfortunately, last year KidsCan estimated around 55,000 New Zealand children were going to school without lunch once or more a week.

Go online for ideas

Just recently a lunch-box hack from a mum in Australia went viral with parents worldwide labelling her system a game-changer.

The mum simply cut up a week’s worth of carrots, cucumber and other veges and fruit and popped them into sealed containers in the fridge.

It’s a great time-saving idea but for it to go viral shows how desperate and frustrated lunch-making parents are.

There are plenty of galleries, blogs, websites and Instagram pages for ideas on healthy, budget-friendly lunches so have a look and find a good fit for your family.

Get the kids involved

Talk to your children about what they like eating during the day and get them involved in putting it all together.

Clear a space in the pantry and fridge for easy to grab lunch snacks so children know what they can take.

Give yourself a break

If the budget allows, give yourself a day or two off a week and order something through the school.

There are online ordering systems such as Ezlunch that order from local businesses and offer a variety of healthy options.

Kiwi mum Sandra Findlay started Ezlunch in 2010 when her own children were in primary school and she was tired of “clumsy processes requiring coins and envelopes”.

“Ezlunch was created to offer an easy, quick lunch service that offered good food and was simple for schools to take part in,” she said.

“The phone app was introduced this year to make it more accessible for parents on the move, along with some powerful features for making school payments more visible and flexible.”

The company works with around 90 local cafes and caterers that prepare and deliver lunch in their downtime.

There are 350 schools using Ezlunch from Kerikeri to Invercargill and well over 100,000 families.

Doing it for themselves

If Auckland schoolkids Isabella and Miller Hawthorn don’t like something in their lunch-boxes they only have themselves to blame.

The siblings have been packing their own lunches for years and mum Rebecca Hawthorn said because they have packed it they eat it.

“I hated making lunches that weren’t being eaten so they have been making their own since they were about 8.”

Both Isabella, 12 and Miller, 10 are “good eaters” and will fill containers with choices such as fruit and veges, yoghurt, cheese and crackers and pizza bread.

“They each have a cooler bag and a whole lot of containers so they will pack whatever we have the night before so there is not the morning rush,” Hawthorn said.

“They don’t really like sandwiches so they take little containers of strawberries and grapes, pretzels and then perhaps muesli bars and a few other things as well.”

Isabella and Miller are both allowed “one bought lunch a week as a treat.”

“Miller’s school has sushi once a week which he loves and Isabella’s school has a cafeteria so she gets something from there.”

Hawthorn said the lunches might not always tick all the nutritional boxes but the family makes up for that at breakfast and dinner.

“They eat a healthy breakfast and dinner so even though lunch might not be as balanced I know what they are taking is not going to waste and they are eating it.”

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