Coming up with healthy, balanced and affordable school lunches every day can be a tall order, particularly if you look after fussy eaters or children with specific dietary needs. However, as we explored in a previous post on the NFA blog, the kitchen is a great place to get children learning new skills and developing a love for food – so there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to help out when it comes to getting food ready for the school day.
Making school lunches with your children can offer a range of benefits, both for you and for them. Firstly, it may help them develop a healthier relationship with the food they eat, and could help to prevent things like fussy-eating and the onset of disorders like food hoarding. It will also offer them a clear picture of where their food comes from, and may give them more of a sense of ownership over their daily routine – something which can be beneficial in helping older children adjust to the back-to-school routine.
From a carer’s perspective, making lunch together can be a great way to bond with your child over a hands-on activity, and could also make things easier in the sense that they’ll be more likely to enjoy the food they’ve made. The question is – which school lunches can you easily make with your children? And which offer the best combination of healthiness and taste?
To help you get creative in the kitchen with your children, we’ve put together a list of 8 school lunches that are perfect to make with children of all ages – so let’s tuck in.
1. Lunchbox Pasta Salad
Generally speaking, pasta is usually a winner, with enough variations of this classic Italian favourite to appease even fussy eaters. The great news is, it’s also quick and easy to make, and children will enjoy getting creative with different fillings and sauces.
When it comes to packed lunches, pasta salad offers a great alternative to the standard sandwich. While you cook the pasta, children can get busy prepping their fillings, and we’d recommend pairing healthy proteins like chicken or eggs with a light mayo to create an appetising and filling lunch.
If you haven’t heard of bento boxes by now, you don’t know what you’ve been missing. Exported from Japan, bento is the new lunchtime food craze that’s sweeping the UK, and is a particular favourite among children.
Essentially, this is a healthy meal compartmentalised into different sections in a lunchbox. The meal itself is supposed to cover the main food groups, including protein, vegetables, dairy, fruits and grains, but you don’t have to include everything. If you’re looking for some inspiration on how you and your child can put together the perfect lunchtime bento, we’d recommend this guide.
The DIY nature of tacos makes them a quick, easy and fun option for school lunches, and you and the children can easily put together a plate of these delicious Mexican treats in a matter of minutes. Best of all, they’re much healthier than sandwiches, with tortilla wraps helping you and the children to cut out the carbs and sugars of standard sliced bread.
If you have time on your hands and fancy getting creative in the kitchen, you and your children can make tacos from scratch using a choice of ingredients. Or you can substitute homemade taco shells for shop-bought ones that take the stress out of lunchtime prep.
4. Energy Bites
It’s important that children get enough food throughout the day to keep their energy levels up, but not at the expense of eating junk foods like sweets and crisps. A good way to keep your child full throughout the school day is by making energy bites, which combine a little of something sweet with nuts, seeds and fruits that deliver energy when they need it.
Simple to make and guaranteed to go down a storm with your children, these energy bites from BBC Good Food use peanut butter and cocoa powder to lend a chocolatey taste to an energy-rich mix of nuts and dried fruits. Putting these snacks together is great fun for little hands, and they’ll definitely be pleased to see a couple in their lunchbox.
5. Healthy Homemade Pizza
Children love pizza, but it’s rare that you’d ever include a slice of pie in their packed lunch box. However, if you’re looking for a lunchtime treat to make with your child, it is possible to make pizza more on the healthy side – and boy will they thank you for it.
BBC Good Food has a range of options for making healthy pizza your child will love to see in their lunchbox. Making pizza from scratch means you can cut out some of the more fattening elements, and children will enjoy mixing and rolling out the dough. Healthy pizza is also an affordable lunchtime option, with enough slices to split over three or four days.
6. Sweet Potato Crisps
Crisps are a good snack to accompany a main school dinner, but they can be very fattening. If you’re looking for an alternative to crisps that your child will still enjoy, we’d recommend cooking up a batch of sweet potato crisps.
Sweet potato crisps are easy to make and are much healthier than the standard packet of Walkers. Children will love seasoning the sweet potato slices and watching them bake to a crisp in the oven, but it’s important to keep them away from sharp knives until they’re older.
7. Superfood Mini Flapjacks
Although too much sugar can be bad for children, that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy sweet treats in moderation. If you want to introduce something on the sweet side into their balanced lunchtime meal, why not have a go at making superfood flapjacks?
These delicious treats taste as good as regular flapjack but contain things like nuts, seeds and fruits, which release energy slowly, giving your child a boost throughout the day. Best of all, they’re fun to make, so you and the children can enjoy baking them together on a Sunday afternoon. You’ll find the recipe, here.
8. DIY Puff Pastry Tarts
No child wants sandwiches every day of the week, so it’s good to mix things up with other filling staples that provide plenty of nourishment whilst being quick and easy to make.
If you’re all about uncomplicated cooking when it comes to packed lunches, you can’t go wrong with ready-rolled puff pastry. Most supermarkets stock lighter pastries that are less fattening, and thus great for children’s school dinners. Get the children to help prepare and shape their puff pastry tart, and they’ll be proud to show off their creation in the canteen.
For more foster care advice and stories, be sure to check out the rest of the NFA blog. If you want to learn more about getting into fostering, visit our homepage or get in touch with our team today on 0330 022 9135.