Back here with part 2 of the kids lunchbox series. I’m so happy the first part was helpful for a lot of you. In this post, I’ll be writing about how I go about deciding what goes into the lunchbox everyday.
A lot of my planning for the lunchbox is much like the planning/template I have for when I make my salads. If you have been around here for a while, you may probably remember it. If not, you can read it here.
Similarly, when I pack my child’s lunchbox, my primary aim is to keep it balanced and also provide the child with a variety of nutritious options.
The reason I include a variety of foods is because even as adults, a lot of us like having varied options during meal times, so why not let the child have options too? Another reason is to make them be less fussy about food in general, on a longer run. The more textures and tastes we introduce them to at an younger age, the better choices they will be able to make as they grow older at least as far as their eating is concerned. This is also one of the reasons why I chose to ‘baby led wean’ both my children.
Moving on to the lunchbox now, any lunchbox that I pack for the child will typically have some form of carb, some fruits, some veggies, a protein, a little portion of dairy, something crunchy, something sweet etc. Basically a little mix of everything so that there is variety in taste, texture as well as on the nutrient aspect.
My kid’s school has a strict no-junk, no-nuts policy. This means that most sugary treats and processed/packaged food doesn’t get packed in the box and but are rather eaten at home (and on a fairly regular basis, unfortunately).
I typically pack two boxes – a snackbox and a lunchbox. The snackbox almost always has two different fruits (if not more) and something filling to last until lunchtime as my son only has milk at home before he leaves. The lunchbox is a mix of different things in small portions.
As is the case with all kids, not everything gets eaten all the time. There are days when he barely eats anything and there are days when the lunchbox is empty and he still comes home ravenous. I do not attribute this to him being a fussy eater because there are plenty of other distractions that can possibly keep children away from eating/finishing lunch – like friends, play time and other hings happening at school.
But I digress. So I’ll come back to what goes into the lunchbox:
- Carbs/Grains – This could be dosa, idli, bread, rice, roti, millets, crackers, etc. Packing a portion of carbs always ensures they have enough energy to sustain through the day.
- Fruits & Vegetables – These are an absolute must. I aim for at least 2-4 different ones if not more. Together, it’s about a cup of veggies and fruits that I try to pack.
- Protein – I get this covered via different types of beans and pulses, tofu, paneer, pottu kadalai/dalia dal etc. Since he can’t have eggs due to health reasons (which he used to love), I don’t pack them in any form anymore. I even make eggless mayo at home now. I usually make this in small batches and my son loves it. Sometimes, I also make a non-vegan version and I like this recipe. There are plenty of other similar recipes online too.
- Dairy – My son’s dairy is very limited, again due to health reasons. But when I do offer dairy, I choose things he enjoys, in limited quantities. This includes paneer, cheese triangles (not the healthiest choice but YOLO and all that, so I let him have it anyway), feta or halloumi cheese.
- ‘Treat‘ – Though what I pack as a ‘treat’ isn’t always one technically, I like to call them that so he thinks that they really are something worthy. Oh, the things you’ve got to do as a parent. This includes raisins, apricots, dates etc. Or sometimes a little piece of something home-baked or home-made like ‘protein balls’ and on some days a few store-bought things like biscuits, crackers, etc.
So, the points mentioned above cover the basis of every snackbox and lunchbox I put together. But what truly helps me whip up these boxes before it’s time for the bus in the mornings is some amount of planning.
If you follow me here or on Instagram, you will know that I batch-prep sauces, gravy bases, chutneys etc. over the weekend. This makes things a LOT easier in the mornings because there is plenty of things you can mix and match and come up with when you have some things handy.
I use the pasta sauce I make in sandwiches or even as a gravy base at times by adding/adjusting the spices. Similarly, green chutney or hummus works as a great base for sandwiches, in chapathi rolls or as a dip. This way, it also feels like there is little or no repetition of things over the week.
I also do not shy away from using leftovers (as many of you might already know, lol). If there’s leftover rice, I make a fried rice or something similar. If I have rice and some starchy veggie or beans or thick dal, I make arancini-type something or patties; dry subzi turns into stuffed paratha etc. I also cook some extra pasta or noodles and refrigerate it to use for later.
Another way I save time in the mornings is by flash cooking vegetables. You must be aware of this if you know/have heard about the OPOS way of cooking. Please do your research if you don’t. I also have these cooker separators which I use quite often.
If I’m including foods that the child has never tried, I definitely try to do it at home first. This has helped in reducing food wastage. Now that he understands things better, I also tell him beforehand what’s in a dish just so that he has an idea of what he’s eating and doesn’t reject it right away just because he isn’t sure what’s in it or if it’s in a form he hasn’t tried before.
On good days, when we aren’t rushed in the mornings, I also try to involve him in the process of packing the lunchbox itself. This also helps reinforce the message that I’d like him to give a dish a try especially if it’s something he isn’t very fond of (by mentally preparing him for what is coming).
Using cookie cutters to cut veggies and fruits, sandwiches, chapathi etc. when I do have the time also helps add an element of fun. Cut salad type veggies into ribbons, julienne etc. if you don’t have cookie cutters. I also skewer veggies and fruits, pancakes with fruits, cucumber with cheese etc. from time to time.
Another very important thing that a lot of us tend to forget is not halving or quartering (lengthwise) grapes, cherry tomatoes etc. This is important until at least the child is five years of age or for longer if you can as these could be potential choking hazards.
So, these are my top tips for packing a healthy, colorful and enjoyable lunchbox for your kids. If you have more questions, please do comment here so that I can try to answer them if I think I can help add value.