It can be nightmarish finding foods that are both healthy and popular with the kids. Just when you’ve found a nutritious little snack they can’t get enough of, their best friend tells them it’s gross and they refuse to eat it for the next three years. But, with a little perseverance and some childlike logic, you could have the last (vitamin-fuelled) laugh, says Dubai-based dietician Peta Picton.
Peta advises that you plan what you want to give them for lunch each day before you do your weekly shop at the supermarket, and make sure that the items on your list will be enough to last the week. When thinking about what to feed them, Peta suggests you try to strike a balance between the different food groups: ‘Be sure to include breads and cereals, fruit, vegetables and moderate amounts of milk and meat or veggie alternatives,’ she says. Try to pack things that are easy to handle and quick to eat, so they don’t abandon lunch in favour of the playground.
Examples include a cream cheese or tuna wrap with salad, carrot and cucumber sticks with houmous, fresh fruit cut into bite-sized pieces (or canned fruit so long as it’s in juice not syrup) and frozen yoghurt or milk (this will help keep the other foods cool, too). Great snacks include plain popcorn, dried fruit or crackers with cheese spread. If they’re a little iffy about the taste-based merits of your nice healthy choices, get them involved in the preparation process, explaining to them why they’re having each item: milk gives you strong teeth and bones, carrot sticks help you see in the dark, and so on. Ask them what their friends had for lunch and if they seem enthusiastic about any of the items, provided they’re not fat-or sugar-laden, try buying them. In our experience, if their ‘BFF’ claims to be addicted to kiwi fruits, junior’s far more likely to decide he likes them, too
Snack time staples
Think out of the box. You don’t always have to give ’em sandwiches, you know!
• Mini pizzas can be made in a jiffy using ready-cooked Arabic bread rounds, topped with cheese, tomatoes and veggies. Just throw them together and brown them under the grill.
• Ready-made mini quiches can be an absolute godsend if you’re really stuck for time. Some varieties include all sorts of tasty veg, while the egg and cheese are great sources of calcium and protein.
• Pack a hot dog. You can buy great ‘dogs’ at most supermarkets, and all they require is a quick blanch in hot water, and a long roll, along with a squirt of Tommy K. Serve it with an additional snack box filled with crudities and dip. Yummy!
• Last night’s leftovers can also make great lunchbox fillers. Various pasta and potato salads are particularly versatile, as are thick soup, rice and noodle dishes. Filling and nutritious.
For more information on imaginative packed lunches, or visit www.packedlunchideas.com and www.freequickrecipes.com
Our readers share their top lunchtime tips
"My daughter likes pasta, but I never make it plain. I always grind vegetables with the tomato sauce and spice it the way she likes so she wouldn’t notice the veggie flavour. Use the same sauce for pizza and you’ve got yourself a healthy meal. Fish fingers, potato smilies, veggie nuggets, homemade chicken nuggets – not fried but grilled in the oven without oil for 15 mins." Rana Hajjar
"Either a sandwich or houmous with cucumbers, carrots and Arabic bread, then a box of raisins, a cereal bar and always fruit! And it’s water only for school lunches." Melanie Gissing
"Re-freezable packs are a must in this heat!" Samia Vazquez
"Carrots and cucumbers, mozzarella string cheese, breadsticks and fresh fruit skewers are the daily staples for us. Along with water, I pack a bottle of laban, which is better in the heat than juices." Nadia Khan-Ayoub