Parents creating lunchboxes each day know how disheartening it can be when children return home after school with a full lunchbox. You’re worried they’re hungry in the afternoon, unable to concentrate and concerned they’re not eating enough – or enough of the right nutrients.
At The Ribbon Box (sign up to our newsletter here), we’ve collaborated with Annabel Karmel (find her website here). Annabel is the UK’s number 1 children’s cookery author, bestselling international author, and a world-leading expert on devising delicious, nutritious meals for babies, children and families. With expertise spanning 30 years, Annabel knows exactly how to make children’s lunchboxes healthy and interesting, so each afternoon you’ll find an empty lunchbox in your child’s schoolbag.
Read on for Annabel’s 5 ideas for making lunchboxes bursting with fuel for learning.
Many parents believe it’s easier to get their child trying new foods at home, but packed lunches are a fantastic opportunity for children to try new things themselves and develop their sense of independence.
If you find mealtimes at home emotionally charged and tiresome, you may find your child is more likely to try new foods at school. This is because, at school, there is often a desire to fit in with friends so your child is unlikely to cause a fuss if their friends around them are happily munching away.
We all know how difficult it is to concentrate on an empty stomach and how important nutritious foods are for children’s learning in these early years, so here are a few of my top lunchbox tips:
1. It’s in the prep
The way you prepare foods can be the difference between a tantrum and a clean plate. Children love picking up food and eating with their fingers so cut new veggies such as carrot, cucumber, sugar snap peas and red pepper into small batons. This will make the vegetables easy to hold and fun to crunch on. Wrapping the batons in slightly damp kitchen towel and popping in their lunchbox will help to keep the veggies fresh and crunchy. You could offset the novel veggies by also packing your child’s favourite sandwich and some hummus for dipping.
If you prep vegetables this way, they’ll be far more appealing for your child than being presented with a side of boiled carrots with dinner.
2. Involve your child in their lunchbox prep
On weekends when you have a quieter afternoon, get your little helper to help you prep lunch for the week. Involving kids in the kitchen is a great way to keep little hands occupied at home, and an opportunity to teach them about new foods and help them learn new skills. By making something together from scratch, you’ll probably instil a love of good, healthy food and your child is also far more likely to try something new if they have prepared it themselves.
3. Tell the food’s story
Even if you’re not prepping their lunchbox together, you can still involve your child in the kitchen by telling them about the foods you’re including and where they come from. Kids love to tell stories, but they love to hear them too, so make sure to include plenty of positives and any interesting facts you might know. You’ll be surprised how easily this can entice children to try new foods, especially as they can share this new learning with friends.
4. Snack smarter
Children often find their energy dips mid-afternoon so it can be a good idea to include a delicious homemade savoury muffin to top-up their energy levels during their afternoon break. Experiment with lots of different veggie fillings such as carrot, courgette or butternut squash – get the kids involved in the mixing so they learn muffins aren’t just filled with chocolate or blueberries! Or prepare some homemade energy balls and bars; free of refined sugar and packed with oats, seeds, dried fruit and nuts – a perfect snack for that afternoon slump.
Discover Annabel Karmel’s ready-to-go meals for toddlers and children. Inspired by Annabel’s famous cookbook recipes, they are low in salt, super balanced, and a tasty way towards their 5 a day – the perfect way to fuel play! Find the range in the chilled aisle at Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Ocado.
5. Make trying new foods fun
Make lunchtimes exciting by adding an element of fun to their lunchboxes. Pasta salads, rice salads, couscous or tabbouleh are tasty – and filling, too. Make some mini veggie balls or my famous chicken and apple balls; these can easily be made in bulk and frozen (ideal for busy parents!), plus little ones will love to dunk them in healthy dips. My children loved pitta pockets filled with tuna and sweetcorn – or why not roll sandwiches to look like mini sushi rolls! Going beyond the boundaries of what a sandwich can look like is a perfect way to get children eating fish (if they weren’t so keen before). You could also include some kids chopsticks in their lunchbox for added fun.
Lunchboxes don’t have to be a bore and helping your child to try new things can happen at school as well as at home. To join in the conversation, follow our new Parenting Instagram page here and share lunchbox ideas with other parents.
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