Updated: Sep 13
With the kids back to school this month, you might be starting to think about the school-run routine and how you can get your kids to eat healthy lunches.
This is even more timely as September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, and, while diet is not the only contributing factor to obesity (stress and exercise are also super important, as well as other factors), as the saying goes, “you can’t outrun (or out-exercise) a bad diet”.
Besides our physical health and weight, what we eat also has a profound effect on our mental health. The food our children eat affects their ability to focus and concentrate in school, their energy levels, their mood and behavioural issues, and can either help or worsen hormonal imbalances (which is obviously super important during puberty).
But getting children to eat healthily can be a challenge, especially when they have access to junk food outside of the home, or if they haven’t been eating this way since birth (or weaning, to be precise!). Unhealthy food also tends to be convenient (no prep involved) and travels well.
So how do you make quick and healthy food that isn’t messy to eat, can be eaten cold (or doesn't need a microwave or access to a kitchen), and that kids will find tasty (and not too ‘weird’ or ‘out there’!)?
Here are my top 6 healthy packed lunch ideas, great for kids to take to school, or for yourself to take to the office!
#1 Wholegrain or gluten-free wrap with hummus, falafel, roast veg (I recommend sweet potato and red pepper) and sautéed kale.
While some people can tolerate gluten fine, I recommend cutting down on bread consumption, especially traditional white or brown bread, which often has added sugar or salt (even the unsweetened varieties still spike our blood sugar levels, as they are high on the Glycemic Index). Plus, bread tends to take the place of healthier foods (we don’t often eat bread with vegetables, it tends to be with other unhealthy processed foods like ham and cheese). However, there’s no denying that sandwiches are a convenient lunch food, especially if you don’t have access to a kitchen or microwave at lunchtime. So, I recommend switching from bread to wraps, as you can get more filling in them, and they are thinner, so less gluten! The healthiest options would be a sprouted or wholegrain wrap, or a gluten-free wrap (just be careful of added sugar, as many gluten-free products have lots of additives).
You can buy the hummus and falafel already made to save even more time (again, just look for sugar-free falafel, like Sainsbury’s or Gosh). All you need to do is make a large batch of roast veggies on Sunday to last you through the week.
#2 Chickpea ‘tuna’ salad, with quinoa (for adults!) or on wholegrain/sourdough bread (for the kids).
Head over to my Instagram for the recipe.
This salad is great in a wrap or sandwich (ideally wholegrain or sourdough bread) or served with quinoa for an even healthier lunch.
#3 Vegetable soup in a flask.
Although kids probably won’t be able to reheat food at school, there are some flasks that keep food hot (or at least warm) enough to last until an early lunch. If you can find a good one, then soups are a great way to get more veggies in, plus they are super warm and comforting in winter!
#4 Cold quinoa salad: e.g. quinoa, steamed/roast beetroot, roast sweet potato, pomegranate seeds, avocado, pistachios, parsley, coriander, orange (peeled and sliced), spinach, rocket, and a dressing (oil and red wine vinegar).
Ok, I’ll admit, this one is a little fancy, and it might not appeal to all kids! But it also takes around 7 exposures to a new food for kids to develop a taste for it, so it's worth persevering! (Or just keep this one for your own lunch!)
#5 Cold rice salad: e.g. cooked brown rice, chopped steamed broccoli, toasted flaked almonds, pine nuts and raisins, with a tahini-tamari dressing.
Like the salad above, this includes a great source of healthy whole grains (brown rice) which contain essential B vitamins and, as a complex carb, help stabilise our blood sugar levels, giving us sustained energy throughout the day. Salads are also a fantastic way to get more veggies in your diet so feel free to add whatever veggies or nuts you fancy!
A simple dressing would be equal parts tahini and tamari (gluten-free and sugar-free soya sauce), mixed together, then slowly add a little water and keep stirring until it’s the consistency you like. If you have high blood pressure, reduce the tamari, or swap it for a little lemon juice and garlic.
#6 Cashew cream cheese with roast veggies (e.g. red pepper, aubergine, tomato) on sourdough/wholegrain baguette.
Again, a little fancy for school lunches, but the key is to try to get as many veggies in as possible, which can be difficult when it comes to sandwich fillings. But roast veggies go really well with cashew cream cheese, which isn’t as difficult to make as it sounds!
Just soak a cup of cashews in some hot water for 10 minutes, drain and rinse, then chuck them in a blender along with a pinch of salt, a small squeeze of lemon, a teaspoon of nutritional yeast, and a few tablespoons of water. Blend until smooth, adding more water if needed (but you want a thick, spreadable texture, like cream cheese). Add more nutritional yeast to taste. You can also add a teaspoon of garlic powder and some fresh herbs like dill or spring onion. For a high protein variation, you can also chuck in a block of tofu (no need to press) along with the cashews. Add water or unsweetened almond milk to thin, if needed. This should keep for at least 4 days in the fridge. Roast a big batch of veggies on a Sunday to have throughout the week.
Serve on a baguette (the healthiest choice would be wholegrain or sourdough), or in a wrap.
Here are some great, healthy lunchbox snack ideas:
Carrot sticks, celery sticks, sliced cucumber, and red pepper slices with hummus
Olives (a great source of healthy fat)
Apple slices with nut butter
A piece of fruit
Small pot of (sugar-free) non-dairy yoghurt - like this one, for example
Small bottle of (sugar-free) non-dairy kefir - such as this
Couple of squares of raw chocolate (such as Ombar, in the UK)
Pot of kale chips
Black bean dip with oatcakes
Rice cakes with nut butter
So, there you have it; 6 healthy packed lunch ideas for kids and grownups, plus some healthy lunchbox snack ideas. Which of them will you try? Take a photo of what you make and share it with me over on Facebook!