Friday, August 6, 2021

Making School Lunches Fun: Easy Kids Lunch Box Ideas


I know I've mentioned this before but I'll reiterate for the benefit of any first time visitors to my blog. I have taken packed lunch boxes all of my life right from primary school through college followed by University to life as a working adult. It is a part of my lifestyle and one that I see continuing for the foreseeable future. 

If you have been following my blog regularly, you will know that I did a blog post for adult lunch box ideas not too long ago. Today's post is on school lunch boxes. 

Let me tell you something about my six and a half year old twin daughters. They have certain likes and dislikes when it comes to food they way most children do. My daughters are small eaters and can probably be classified as picky eaters (just like I was as a child!) but over time, that is something that I have come to terms with. As a parent, I have granted my children reasonable autonomy when it comes to portions and have always offered them varied choices when it comes to food groups and cuisines. 

One of my twins eats more vegetables, is more adventurous when it comes to trying new foods and has a better tolerance for spicy foods. The other one can live on fruits, prefers familiar comfort foods and does not usually enjoy foods that are spicy. Even though they are twins, their dietary preferences tend to vary. That being said, what my daughters have in common is a sweet tooth! In this world filled with enticing sugar-laden goodies and processed foods, making them understand how to make smarter food choices is something I want to instill at an early age (while I re-learn along with them!). 

I have been packing lunch and snack boxes for the girls since they started primary school earlier this year. They have a short snack break earlier in the day followed by a lengthier recess during mid-morning. I have been packing relatively light given that they are small eaters and also because they come home in the afternoon and have a proper home-cooked hot lunch. The lunchbox undertaking has been going pretty smoothly and despite the early school timings, we have been gradually eased into a comfortable routine. We have been using the Yumbox and I'd say, so far so good! Thumbs up for the colors, design and durability and brownie points for the compartmentalized bento design suits my agenda of packing assorted food groups. Over the past several months, I have figured out what foods work and what don't and have a reasonably good idea of what to pack for four days of the school week (the girls eat at the cafeteria on one day). Packing the lunch and snack boxes is a 20-30 min activity which is undertaken sometimes by me, other times by our domestic helper and occasionally a little bit by both of us. The bottom line is that it gets done before 7am which is when the girls need to be out the door. 

What I like about sending packed lunch to school is that I know for sure that the food has been prepared hygienically, I can incorporate some variety thus making the meals more wholesome and at the end of the day, I am aware of how much my daughters have eaten. The girls usually do finish all the contents of their snack box and lunch box in school. If anything is left unfinished, it is usually the vegetables (no surprises there!) but we have a pact that it will be eaten after coming home. So far, they have stayed true to their word. 

Before I get to the actual contents of the lunchboxes, a little bit of background. In my children's school, only finger foods are allowed in the snack box, sharing of food is not allowed and there is no nut-free policy. I'd never make any claims of everything in these lunchboxes being "healthy" because that is not my intention and neither is it true. I sincerely try to incorporate 2-3 portions of fresh fruit and vegetables, I often lean towards nutritious snacks like nuts, dried fruit and makhana and many times, the sweet treat is homemade with reduced sugar and healthier substitutes but that is about as far as I go. 

If you are looking for kids lunchbox inspiration, I have compiled some of our go-to combinations. Everything you see in this post is vegetarian but most of the "mains" can be customized to incorporate animal protein of your choice. Wherever recipes are available, I have included the links. Also, you can scroll down to the end of the post for a detailed list of snacks and sides (that work for us) along with some tips that I hope can save you precious time during frenzied mornings. 

So without further ado, here we go!

Sandwiches 

One of the easiest things to pack in kids lunchboxes are sandwiches. Bread is a huge savior for moms who don't have a lot of time to spare! But do it too often and it can get boring. I try to switch it up a bit with different kinds of sandwiches. 

Not surprisingly, my kids prefer white bread for their sandwiches so that is what I have been using most of the time. 

Cheese sandwiches, PB&J and chocolate-hazelnut (we prefer the Lindt spread) sandwiches are always a winner around here!



Occasionally, I use multigrain bread for sandwiches. The girls have noticed the difference but haven't really complained. I am hoping to gradually phase out the white bread (fingers crossed!). 

BTW, this was a Valentine's Day special lunch box that I packed earlier this year 😊 In case you were wondering, I don't have time (or patience) to leave notes on a daily basis but I think it is a sweet gesture and I'd like to do it at least on special occasions. 

Who doesn't like grilled cheese sandwiches right? And although they taste best freshly made while hot and oozy, my kids don't mind them in the lunchbox. 

Toasted bread rolls are a good option too. I either make a spinach-sweet corn-cream cheese filling or a paneer-tomato-onion filling. 

Pinwheel sandwiches are super easy to make, look fun and taste good too. I usually lightly toast a wholemeal tortilla wrap on both sides, spread a little tomato ketchup, layer a thin simple cheese omelette over it, tightly roll and slice. 

I have also made these type of pinwheel sandwiches using a filling of spinach-mushroom-cream cheese. 


My kids absolutely love croissants so I add them to my grocery cart every single week. A croissan'wich is a great option for a lunch box. 

I usually do a combination of cream cheese and jam (Smucker's blueberry jam gets top vote in my household!). Some other combinations that have gone down well are scrambled egg with cheese, peanut butter with chocolate and a fresh cheese with garlic & herbs spread. 

While still on the subject of sandwiches, bagels and pita pockets are a great options too.




Pizza

If my daughters are asked to name their favourite pizza, it will be Margherita pizza for sure. I frequently make homemade marinara sauce. In the event that I have extra sauce, I make bread pizza for the girls lunch box and they absolutely love it. Mini pizza crusts would be an even better option but I don't always have these at home. 

I add a slice of cheddar cheese on the bread, generously slather the sauce, top with shredded mozzarella and bake in a hot oven for 10 min. 

As my children would say, easy-peasy lemon squeezy!


Muffins

I've experimented a few times with muffin recipes and they have worked pretty well. I like to use a combination of whole wheat and plain flour to make muffins. 

I have made oatmeal raisin muffins, apple walnut muffins, blueberry muffins and I recently tried a savory cheese muffin which was rather well received as well. 



Mini Quiche

This was an unexpected roaring success! I happened to have some leftover homemade shortcrust pastry that I had used the previous night to make vegetable pot pies, so I put together simple mini quiches for the lunchbox the next day. The girls loved it so much that they kept asking for it all week. 

The following week I made the mini quiches with puff pastry. It didn't work as well as the shortcrust pastry but the girls enjoyed it nevertheless. 

I have done broccoli-cheddar, broccoli-mushroom and spinach-mushroom quiches so far. The broccoli-cheddar is the clear winner with my kids!



Pancakes

Pancakes are something I reserve for the weekends because it is nice to enjoy them at leisure. I have packed them only a few times in the lunchbox but my kids love them so much that I sometimes make an exception. 

I have been using oat flour to make chocolate chip pancakes or blueberry pancakes with a light drizzling of maple syrup. 

Pasta

Most kids like/love pasta, don't they? Mine are no exception. I have a few basic pasta recipes up my sleeve. I use whatever pasta I have on hand, cook it and toss in a basil-walnut pesto or a herby tomato sauce or a cheesy cream sauce. Other times, I bypass the sauce and either do an aglio olio or a stir-fried veggie pasta seasoned with Cajun spice. 





Paratha

The only reason Indian food doesn't feature much in our lunch boxes is because I prefer to pack light finger foods that can be made quickly. 

Parathas are a kind of flatbread that are made with a dough of whole wheat flour and a spiced vegetable filling. This is one of the few Indian dishes that checks the box and is something my kids like as well. Whenever I make paratha for dinner the previous night and have leftover vegetable filling, I use it to make parathas for the lunchbox. Aloo paratha and rajma cheese parathas are huge favorites around here. 



Fried Rice

If you have leftover rice, making a simple fried rice is a no-brainer. It comes together quickly and is highly customizable I ask my domestic helper to make fried rice because she knows how to make it just the way my kids like it.

Bee Hoon

Bee Hoon is another dish that is versatile and quick to make. I almost always have rice noodles in my pantry so on those days when I run out of other ideas, I turn to bee hoon. 

I must admit that my kids aren't as fond of bee hoon as they used to be (I'm hoping it is just a phase) so it makes an appearance in the lunch box less frequently. 

Mini Burger

We have black bean burgers quite frequently for dinner and it is something everyone likes. On the rare occasion that I have any black bean mixture leftover, I make mini black bean burgers for the lunchbox the next day. A shallow-fried black bean patty, lettuce, some cheese and ketchup sandwiched between lightly toasted mini whole wheat buns, seals the deal.

On the days I have mixture leftover from aloo tikki or vegetable cutlets, I also assemble mini burgers as described above. 



List of the sides and snacks in our Yumbox and snack box, 

Note that after many months of trial and error, these are the things my daughters will willingly eat. For non-fussy kids, the sky's the limit!

Vegetables:
Steamed broccoli
Steamed baby corn
Buttered sweet corn
Carrots 
Steamed green beans
Cucumbers
Cherry tomatoes 

Fruits:
Apple
Pear
Banana
Orange
Watermelon
Apricots
Dragon fruit
Grapes
Berries
Mango
Papaya
Pomegranate
Cherries
Figs
Longan

Sweet treats:
Biscuits (we mostly get ours from Marks & Spencer or IKEA)
Animal crackers
Dry wholegrain cereal
Buns
Marble cake
Cheesecake
Granola bars
Dried fruit (Dates, apricots, prunes, jumbo raisins)

Savoury snacks:
Poppables
Goldfish crackers
Veggie straws
Pea crisps
Makhana
Popcorn
Boiled eggs
Cheese sticks or cubes
Ritz crackers 
Nuts (Pistachios, cashews, boiled or roasted peanuts)
Butter murukku/chakkuli

Time saving tips and tricks for school lunches:
  • If possible, draft a rough plan of what to pack in the lunchbox for the week ahead and finish the grocery shopping required for it before the start of the week. I usually plan our weekly menu and grocery shopping list at the same time that I outline the school lunchbox plan so it is like killing three birds in one stone!
  • Keep all the readymade/store-bought snacks and sweet treats required for the lunchbox in one bag or box. This ensures that you don't waste time looking for the different things
  • You can boil eggs the previous night and pop it in the fridge
  • If you have an instant pot, keep an ear of corn overnight to pressure cook for 3 minutes with delay start for 6-7 hours. When you wake up, the corn is ready and warm to receive a slathering of butter. I can't tell you how much I love the delay start function!
  • Roll out and line a well greased muffin tin with shortcrust pastry, lightly prick with a fork and bake for 5 min the night before. Once cool, pop into the fridge. The next day, just make the vegetable & egg mixture, add it in and bake until done
  • If you aren't able to batch cook sauces over the weekend, keep bottles of store-bought marinara sauce, pasta sauce and pesto sauce in your pantry. They come in super handy! 
  • Muffins generally freeze really well. To freeze, make sure muffins are completely cool and then wrap securely in foil or freezer wrap, or place in freezer bags

Follow me on Instagram (@meinblogland) for regular updates on kids lunch box ideas.


I sincerely hope you found this post useful. Till next time!


Cheers,
Megha



None of the products mentioned in these post have been sponsored. They just happen to be some of the products we love around here! 

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