Box of delights: healthy homemade lunch box options for kids

Of all the tasks associated with kids heading back to school, one that continues to plague parents is what to put in their lunch boxes every morning. Not only does the meal have to be tasty, there is also the added pressure of making it nutritious. Stacie Overton Johnson rustles up an inspiring variety of options that children will love.

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Mediterranean

Pack home-made falafel with home-made tahina dip (tahina, lemon juice, salt, water)

Introduce kids to healthier grains when they are little and they’ll learn to love them. This quinoa salad has great texture and, mixed with feta cheese and pomegranate seeds, it’s packed with flavour, too. Couscous is another great alternative.

Plus kids love colourful food, which makes the bright pomegranate seeds hard to resist.

Tip To remove seeds from a fresh pomegranate, cut the fruit in half, turn it over and pound it with the back of a spoon. The seeds will fall out easily.

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DIY

Let kids have fun assembling their own mini sandwiches. Pack a stack of crackers (whole wheat, preferably) with some turkey and cheese. Shape meat and cheese with a cookie cutter into fun shapes to earn superhero status in your kids’ eyes.

Children do not like bitter foods and that is exactly how many vegetables taste to them – but tastes change as they grow older, so be sure to routinely introduce new, raw veggies each week. What they hated last year might be something they enjoy now. Plus, exposing them to new foods will help broaden their palates.

Most children love fruit, but don’t go overboard. Kids between the ages of 4 and 13 should have about 1.5 cups of fruit a day (half that if it is dried fruit). Fruit contains natural sugar (fructose) so it is not harmless – but it is packed with vital nutrients, so it is important to get the right amount.

Tip The best drink to pack for children is water. Avoid all fruit juice – whether pre-packaged or fresh-squeezed. It’s loaded with sugar (as much as soda in many cases) and the fruit in it is stripped of most of its beneficial nutrients – such as fibre – when consumed in juice form, rather than eaten whole.

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Mexican (gluten-free pasta)

Black bean spaghetti is packed with protein and safe for those with gluten allergies. Most supermarkets stock plenty of wheat-free alternatives to pasta, including brown rice pasta, corn pasta and soba noodles. Marinara sauce works, but to complement the black-bean flavour in this spaghetti, we opted for salsa instead.

Stick strawberries and blueberries on a toothpick for fun, easy fruit kebabs. Better yet, let children assemble them the night before.

Guacamole is filled with protein and healthy fats and makes an exciting dip for fresh veggies such as cucumbers and bell peppers.

Tip Opt for red or orange bell peppers as they’re sweeter than green bell peppers.

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Stuffed

Instead of bread, use veggies as a vehicle for sandwich fillings. We made an easy tuna salad and stuffed it into these celery stalks with a sprinkle of fresh parsley. You can do the same with chicken salad or egg salad, too.

A simple fruit salad can entice kids on looks alone. This mix of kiwi, mango and strawberries is child-tested and approved.

A side of carrot chips and mini crackers ensures the little ones get much-needed veggies and grains.

Tip Sneak healthy bits into dips that kids won’t even notice. Add flaxseed or chia seeds to salad dressing, labneh or salsa. Hummus is also a healthy choice for a dip as it is packed with protein and fibre.

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Tiny treats

Send toothpicks as utensils and kids will love picking at this lunch. Meatballs are the perfect toothpick food.

Cut cheese and fruit into cubes, so they’re easy to stab with a toothpick. Cut the veggies into tiny slices and pair them with a favourite salad dressing for dipping. The slicing is tedious but worth it if it makes your children eat their veggies.

Tip Children love tiny things. This lunch is great for picky eaters as well as those who would rather socialise than eat during lunchtime. My chatty 7-year-old has plenty of time to talk between nibbles with these bite-sized portions.

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Breakfast for lunch

Admittedly, this is our least healthy lunch on the list, but it is OK to mix in some fun once in a while. Pack a stack of wholegrain mini waffles, which can be dipped – no utensils necessary. If you cannot find them, choose large wholegrain waffles and cut them with a mini cookie cutter.

Instead of maple syrup, try homemade whipped cream. Beat heavy cream until it becomes light and fluffy, then you control how much sugar you want to add to sweeten it up.

Plain yogurt paired with fresh berries and homemade granola becomes hard to resist.

Tip Flavoured yogurt at the supermarket is filled with added sugar and is better counted as a dessert than a healthy side. Skip the sugary flavours and opt for plain yogurt, which you can mix at home with smashed fruit and a bit of honey or other natural sweetener.

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Afternoon tea party

Perhaps a bit more geared to little girls (haven’t met one yet who can resist a tea party), we packed two kinds of sarnies – cream cheese and jam, and egg salad.

Cucumber and carrot chips are sophisticated fare at any tea party. Don’t forget the dip if you want to ensure your children will eat them.

Strawberries are a hit with most kids – and they are packed with folate, potassium, fibre and vitamin C.

Tip Make your own dips and salad dressings ahead of time so you always have some on hand. Using fresh ingredients and spices along with low-fat ingredients will ensure your dips are healthier than store-bought versions.

Published: August 24, 2016 04:00 AM

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