Easy, pressure-free, lunchbox ideas for busy parents!

We asked top food blogger Sandra Reynolds to share her top tips with us for easy, stree-free school lunch ideas!

If there is one thing that can strike panic in the hearts of most parents it’s the prospect of packing a healthy school lunch that children will eat.

There is so much pressure. It must be nutritious. It must comply with school policy such as being nut-free. It must be delicious or your child won’t eat it. It must not cost the earth.

And most of all, it must be easy to make.

The first week or two of the new school year, parents are enthusiastic. They prepare all sorts of colourful and carefully prepared food to entice their children. By the middle of the school year, it’s one continuous round of vegemite sandwiches. By the end of the school year, it’s buying a school lunch.

There is no way around it, those lunchboxes will not pack themselves, at least, not until you have taught the children to cook or prepare their own and pack it. This could take some time. Until then, do as much as you can ahead of time.

Do it ahead of time

Face it, your mornings are busy. It’s enough to remember to get dressed with a matching pair of shoes most days. Unless you are a naturally early bird, do as much as possible beforehand will save you stress. Although for some people making a whole batch of sandwiches for the week and freezing ahead is a great time saver, it has never been my preferred option. But there are plenty of other food options you can prepare in advance.

  • If you like to bake, a round of savoury muffins (with no sugar and more vegies) helps use up some of the older vegies lingering in the bottom of the fridge. Grate some carrots, zucchini, onions, sweet potato into some muffin mixtures, add a handful of grated cheese and bake as usual. You can freeze them, add them frozen to a lunchbox and they will defrost through the morning.
  • If you like savoury scrolls but don’t like the price in bakeries, make a basic scone dough, roll it out flat, then add grated cheese, some frozen or drained tinned corn, some chopped ham or grated vegies (or even a smear of vegemite) and roll it up into a log before cutting into slices and baking. You can freeze them and they will defrost during the morning before recess.
  • If you have leftover vegies from dinner, quickly chop them up and scatter them into greased muffin tins. Beat 3 or 4 eggs together, pour over the vegies and bake at 180 degrees for 15 -20 minutes. You can freeze these mini frittatas before popping one or two in each lunchbox in the morning.
  • Vegie sticks and dips are popular lunchbox items, but dips can be expensive to buy. Homemade dips can be made at the weekend and keep throughout the week. Chopped carrot and celery sticks can keep in airtight containers in the fridge for up to three days.
  • While sandwiches really are best made that morning, you can make fillings beforehand. The most popular sandwich filling in my family love is equal parts grated carrot and tasty cheese, mixed with a spoonful of low-fat mayonnaise and a handful of sultanas. This filling can be stored for up to five days in an airtight container in the fridge and you don’t need to butter the bread in this sandwich because of the mayo. Too easy.
  • Fruit is essential, but remember that little children may be so distracted by playtime, that they forget to eat it. Make it easy for them. Cut apples and pears into wedges (squeeze some lemon juice over them to stop them from going brown). Cut the top and bottoms off mandarins and oranges, then make one cut through to the middle – the fruit will unroll into perfect wedges, making it easier to eat.

If, after all your efforts, your children bring back uneaten lunches, don’t get angry. All too often lunchtime is a social time and children simply forget to eat. Instead, encourage them to sit and eat their lunch – especially the fruit - as soon as they get home, instead of afternoon tea. (You will often find that after-school programs and day-carers employ this same tactic.)