I’ve often thought that coming up with a winning school lunchbox can be a bit like picking the winner of a horse race. Today’s sure bet is often tomorrow’s also-ran. But your kids’ sometimes fickle tastes mean you have to provide a variety of different treats. And it’s important to provide a balanced diet to energise them through the day.
Fruits and vegetables hit the vitamin and mineral trifecta when it comes to nutrition. And if you can include a good selection, your kids will benefit from enjoying some nutritious winners.
Fats are often thought of as bad bets, and often are. But the fat in cheese, eggs, nuts and meat is beneficial when consumed in moderation. For example, meat and eggs are jam-packed with quality protein which keeps your kids hunger pangs at bay — a bonus in any school lunchbox. Cheese provides calcium as well as protein, and nuts contain antioxidants.
Many ethnic dishes are top picks with today’s kids: think pasta salad with satay sauce; tacos with kidney or black beans and salad veggies; chicken kebabs; lettuce cups with Thai larb; stir-fried rice; pizza; wontons with dip; and sushi – winners that tickle their taste buds.
PASTA SALAD WITH SATAY DRESSING
Chopped hard-boiled eggs or nuts could be swapped for the chicken. Pack the salad into small containers with lids. I used Asian slaw from the vegetables section of my supermarket.
Dressing: 2 tablespoons each: peanut butter, soy sauce, honey, lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated root ginger
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salad: 1/2 cup macaroni or small shell pasta
2 cups prepared slaw
3/4 cup chopped cooked chicken, optional
Whisk the ingredients for the dressing together in a bowl, until smooth.
Boil the pasta according to the packet instructions. Drain and rinse under cold water. Drain again. Cool.
Combine with the slaw in a large bowl. Add the chicken, if using. Toss together with the dressing. Serves 2.
SOFT TACOS WITH CHICKEN
If preferred, add grated cheese or drained and roughly mashed cooked kidney beans. Crisp taco shells could replace the tortillas.
2 mini soft tortillas
1 cup shredded lettuce
1/2-3/4 cup shredded chicken
plain or chipotle mayonnaise to taste
1/2 small avocado, diced
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Place the tortillas on a paper towel and microwave for 15 seconds. This helps soften them and takes away any raw flavour. Cool.
Divide the lettuce over the tortillas and top with the chicken and mayo. Roll up or fold and fit into a lunchbox.
Sprinkle the avo with lemon juice and place in a small container with a lid. Add the cherry tomatoes to the lunchbox. Serves 1.
VEGETABLE STICKS WITH YOGHURT DIP
Cut the vegetables into sticks about 1cm thick and 4-5cm long.
1/2 cup plain Greek-style yoghurt
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1-2 teaspoons mango or other fruit chutney
cucumber, carrot and/or celery sticks
Place the yoghurt, peanut butter and chutney in a bowl stirring until well combined. Pour into a small container. Seal with a lid. Place the vegetable sticks in a lunchbox with the dip container and the crackers. Serves 1.