12 ways to get kids to help with the lunch boxes

Get your kids involved with preparing their own lunch boxes with these 12 great ideas

Any parents of school kids will tell you the daily packing of lunch boxes is one of the biggest banes of their existence. Trying to come up with new, healthy ideas day after day – only to find their painstaking efforts coming back uneaten – can be a soul-destroying exercise. But what if you could out-source this dreaded task to the very people who know exactly what they will and won’t eat? Yes, that’s right, your kids! They are more than capable of packing their own lunchboxes – or at least helping – and you’ll find that the more input they have, the more likely they are to eat the contents. Here are some tips and ideas to help you get them involved…

1. Have ‘the chat’

Sit your kids down and explain they need to be involved with making their own lunches from now on. Set  guidelines of what should be included – at least one fruit, one vegetable, and one protein and some ground rules of how many treats are allowed and what these will entail. Work out a regular time for lunch preparation – either the evening before or the morning of school, or pre-prepping on a Sunday if you’re planning to freeze stuff.

2. Stock up

Discuss with your kids what they might like to include and involve them in the shopping process, then store the items in an easy-to-reach location in the pantry and fridge. It’s also a good idea to buy some fun and functional new lunchboxes, either bento-box style or with a variety of multi-sized containers, as well as an insulated bag, icepack, reusable water bottle and/or small thermos.

3. Become a list lover

Keep a list of ideas handy in the kitchen or inside the pantry. Separate the list into different groups so the kids can select from each group to help them get a balanced lunch box. For example, fresh fruit, fresh crunchy vegetables, dairy products such as milk, yoghurt or cheese (or alternatives such as rice drink or soy yoghurt), proteins such as lean meats, meat alternatives such as tofu, hard-boiled eggs, nuts or seeds (unless your school has a nut-free policy), grains or cereal food – including bread, a roll, flat bread, fruit bread, crackers, rice, pasta – and a treat option, such as Kellogg’s LCM Oaty Bars. Before the week starts, make sure you’re stocked up and see if you can do some pre-preparation beforehand – for example, if your children enjoy hard boiled eggs, boil up a batch on the weekend and keep them in the fridge so the kids simply have to pop them in their lunchbox in the morning.

4. Embrace leftovers

Never underestimate the power of leftovers as lunch box perfection. Leftover meat – such as roast chicken, beef or lamb, is not only perfect for sandwiches, but the kids can also simply tear them into bite-sized pieces and enjoy them with a side of tomato sauce. Meanwhile, meals such as pasta or fried rice are delicious cold the following day, so ask kids after each meal if they’ll happily eat the leftovers and if so, place them in a container the night before, ready to take from the fridge the next morning. Just ensure they stay cold until consumed, with an ice brick and an insulated bag. In winter, have your kids assist you in making a large pot of their favourite soup which they can take in a small thermos and enjoy with some slices of bread.

5. Easy freezey

The freezer is a brilliant way to not only allow you and the kids to prepare ahead at a time when you’re not rushed, but keep things deliciously cold until lunch time. Just some of the wonderful ideas to make the most of your freezer include: making a huge batch of rolls or sandwiches with the kids and wrapping them individually in the freezer, dividing a big batch of their favourite cooked rice or quinoa meals into sandwich bags that can lay flat in the freezer and be popped into lunchboxes ready for an easy lunch bowl, freezing milk, yoghurt, water or even fruit such as orange segments, berries or grapes, ready for a delicious chilled drink or snack.

6. Get out the cookie cutters

Younger kids will enjoy helping out even more – and keep their fingers safe – if you give them cookie cutters to make fun shapes with their lunchbox items. These can be used on everything from sandwiches to soft fruit, to cold slices of meat such as ham, to cheese slices. Encourage kids to take the time to make their lunch look bright, colourful and enticing (something mums often don’t have time for!) and they’ll be much more likely to eat it.

7. Make it a party!

Think of the healthy foods kids like to enjoy at parties and incorporate this into their lunchboxes to make the dining experience fun.  A great way to do this is with a healthy dip such as hommus or guacamole, served up with some pita bread triangles and veggie sticks such as celery, carrot, capsicum and cucumber.

8. Put out a cheese board

Another option is a good old cheese plate in a lunchbox, which can consist of a sliced baguette or crackers, cubed cheddar and other favourite cheese such as feta, cottage cheese etc. Team it with some grapes and dried fruit, add a fun, delicious treat like some popcorn or a Kellogg’s LCMs Oaty Bar and you’re guaranteed an empty lunch box every afternoon.

9. Get them cracking tins

It’s amazing how easily lunch can be achieved by simply cracking open a few tins in the morning. A tin of tuna + a small tin of corn kernels + a tin of 4-bean mix is already on its way to being a substantial lunch, which can easily be added to or adapted with a little brown rice, some cherry tomatoes, baby spinach and/or a few feta cubes.

10. Include lots of smart snacks

Rather than eating three large meals each day, children’s appetites are often geared towards snacking on five or six small portions throughout the day. Take advantage of this by providing a range of bite-size options such as half a sandwich or bread roll, some little sushi bites or falafel balls, cut up fruit or veg, a cheesestick or a Kellogg’s LCM Oaty Bar.

11. Let them roll their own

A fresh kebab type roll consisting of lebanese bread, chicken or falafel, grated carrot, tomato and hommus or tzatziki is a delicious lunch time option, but can be a bit soggy if you prepare it beforehand. Instead, have the children prepare the ingredients and put them into separate containers or compartments, so they can assemble it at school just before eating. Very fancy!

12. Get them baking as well

Why stop at getting your kids to put together their own lunch boxes when you can also have them help you bake stuff to put into it?! Anything from mini sausage rolls to savoury or fruit muffins, to pizza or cheese and vegemite scrolls to mini quiches or frittatas are always sure to be well received at lunch time… and the majority of these can be frozen to ensure they don’t get wasted. Better yet, not only will you be teaching your kids independence and self-sufficiency, they’ll be learning valuable life skills for the future.