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Back to School – Healthy Lunchbox Ideas from Around the World

Welcome Healthy Starts for Families Community to this edition of Healthy Lunchbox Makeovers!

We took six different recipes from around the world and turned them into portable, yummy and scrumptious lunchboxes. Healthy for us means variety and balance! You’ll get a variety of fruits, veggies, as well as a focus towards balancing meat centred lunchboxes with vegetarian or vegan choices.

And, since I’ve been a packing for about five years now… I am happy to share my favourite Lunch Box Packing Tips, because we all need a little help from friends!

 

When I started packing snacks and lunches for my son, the school sent home a list of good foods and bad foods. Yes, a horror to know that my son will be judged on the contents of his snack or lunch box by his teachers and peers (at the age of five!)

So, I had to “reframe” my thinking and focus on what foods were allowed and how to make it fun (and easy) for me to organise. Here’s what I focus on:

1. Assemble Different Colours – Sometimes food can be awfully beige and drab, so I try to think of a lunch box as a place to assemble different ingredients in a colourful way. I get bonus points if I can use leftovers and bits and bobs of fruit and veg that I have on hand.

2. Add a paper towel – I find that the lunchbox gets quite humid, and breads can get soggy, especially if there is fruit or chopped veg inside. I always place a fresh kitchen paper towel inside, not to wipe mouths, but to collect the moisture and avoid sogginess.

3. Winter Lunchboxes – If possible, and no stress if you cannot do this, pack a warm soup in a small secure container made for liquids. No more than a cup / 250ml is needed, but it makes a difference to eat warm in winter. Plus, you get extra points for hydration.

4. Add a tiny, tiny portion of fresh veg to the box – Many kids complain about eating vegetables, but if you do it in a teeny tiny and utterly small way, often they will eat it and get over it. This way is less overwhelming and helps them to get used to the taste of a vegetable. I find that raw veg is best or very, very lightly steamed. For example, 1-2 sugar mangetout, a baby carrot, a few green peas, tiny broccoli tree or teeny bit of parsnip cut into 3 cubes. (True story, I got my son eating broccoli by adding a very tiny broccoli tree to his dish once a week. Then I bumped up to one bigger broccoli tree and now he eats a few no problem, but it took time.)

5. Add in Juice Plus+ Fruit, Vegetable and Berry Chewables (or Capsules for older children) – the sweet taste and chewy texture makes sure that this is the one thing that doesn’t come back home uneaten! Our chewables pack the added nutrition from 30 different fruits, vegetables, berries, and selected vitamins and other plant ingredients in a delicious, vegan gummy form. Did you know that children get chewables for up to four years with a small contribution, when you participate in the Family Health Study? Learn more

6. Temperature – I find eating a ready-made sandwich or salad right out of the refrigerator HORRIFYINGLY cold. Take sandwiches, meals, or produce, out of the fridge first thing in the morning to let the chill come off it and settle to room temperature before sending them off to school.

7. Children Unpack – When the kids get home, they need to unpack the lunchbox or container and get it into the kitchen sink. This teaches them responsibility and avoids you finding a lunchbox growing a fluffy mould monster in their bedroom (this tip is also based on a true story and real-world experience from my household).

 

Letting go of the same trusty ham and cheese sandwich is not easy, LOL, but it's necessary if we want to broaden our children’s taste buds and teach them to eat a variety of food. It has been proven, that we “learn” to eat certain foods and develop a palate for them over time. So, they can get “used to” eating certain types of foods (unless they had a trauma related to that food, have an allergy or intolerance against that food and then the body probably knows best to avoid that exact food). It took me a couple of years to get used to eating sushi for example, because I did not grow up eating fish at all, but after “tasting” different sorts, I started to crave sushi and eat it quite happily now.

So, start with foods that are close to home.

British Favourites Reimagined

  • Bangers & “Mash” (with Vegan options)
  • Ploughmans’ Lunchbox (with Vegan options)

And then take a baby step outside the box, by adding a new flavour or texture. Keep a half a sandwich or fruit to make sure they eat something at least if they don’t like the new food.

 

World Favourites Healthy Makeover

  • American PB&J – whole foods version (Vegan)
  • Caribbean Okra & Cornmeal (Vegan)
  • Mexican Textured Vegetable Protein Tacos (Vegan)
  • Italian Chicken & Pesto Wraps
  • Universal Veggie Soup/Broth

 

 

Bangers & Mash

Take this typical dish and make it portable by making the mashed potatoes a potato patty instead. This is great when you have left over mashed potatoes and don’t know what to do with them.

 

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

4 lean beef or chicken sausage of choice (vegan sausage works as well)

Spoonful of green peas

Cherry tomatoes

One baby spinach leaf

3-4 cups of mashed potatoes (from previous dinner)

1 egg or flax egg*

green onion, chopped

1 cup cheddar cheese, grated (can use vegan cheese OR leave out)

1 cup flour, plus some extra for rolling (can use gluten free)

Butter or olive oil

Milk/Rice milk unsweetened

Sea salt and pepper to taste

 

Directions “Mashed” Potato Patties:

  • Stir the mashed potatoes with the egg, green onion, cheddar, flour and combine well.
  • Using an ice cream scooper or a big serving spoon, scoop up one ball of the mixture and roll into some flour. Flatten into a patty. Then continue with the rest of the mixture.
  • Heat up a skillet with a neutral oil and heat each patty till golden on each side, flipping gently with a pancake turner.
  • Add to the lunchbox or store for later in an airtight container.

 

Assembly:

  • Place 2 sausages and 2 potato patties in the lunch box, with a paper towel to absorb any extra moisture.
  • Add in a several peas for colour, 2 cherry tomatoes and the one spinach leaf. See if they eat it and add two more leaves next time.

 

*Egg Replacement: The egg can be swapped out for a vegan “flax egg” by grinding up 1 tablespoon of flax seeds into a powder, then mixing with 2 tablespoons of water and letting it sit 5-10 minutes before mixing in.

 

Ploughman’s Lunchbox

This popular pub lunch item creates a lunchbox packed with a variety of nutrition!

I love this idea, because it’s not just one thing, but many colourful things to eat in one box AND you can basically clean out your fridge. If you need vegan or gluten free, just switch out the marked ingredients.

 

Serves: 1

Directions:

Take 1-2 from each category and place creatively in the lunch box or airtight container. Build your box with your child’s favourites.

Bread: Thick crusty bread cut into slices (wholegrain) or gluten free oat crackers

Cheese: cheddar cubes or vegan cheese

Meat: 3 ham slices, 3 small meatballs, or turkey sausages

Vegan meat alternative: falafel balls, tofu cubes, bean patty, vegan mini sausages

Fruit: apple slices, 6 grapes, 4 orange slices

Veg: 1-2 pickled onions, 2 small pickles, 1 lettuce leaf, 2 cherry tomatoes, 3 pieces of sliced red pepper

Optional: small pot of yoghurt or coconut yoghurt

 

American PB&J (Peanut Butter & Jelly)

This American favourite typically has loads of added sugar in it, but when you use natural peanut butter, use real fruit instead of jam and upgrade your bread to whole grain, your child will be on the way to a more wholesome lunch. Plus, of course, you can add an extra piece of fruit and a teeny tiny piece of veg in there.

 

Serves: 1

Ingredients:

32g all-natural peanut butter (no added sugar or sweetener)

2 slices whole grain bread or gluten free variety

3 whole plums, pitted and sliced thinly OR handful of strawberries, sliced thinly

1 baby spinach leaf

2 baby carrots

 

Directions:

  • Spread the peanut butter evenly on the bread.
  • Layer the fruit evenly on top of the peanut butter as the jam.
  • Close the sandwich, cut in half diagonally or vertically (you know your child best.) Maybe you need to cut the bread edges off too.
  • Add the sandwich to the box with a fresh paper towel, spinach leaf, and baby carrots.

 

Caribbean Okra & Cornmeal

Bring in tropical vibes and an ultimate comfort food, made with vegan only ingredients and gluten free!

 

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

250 ml canned coconut milk

296 ml water

50 grams okra (trimmed, sliced)

122 grams polenta (fine)

14 grams

Butter

Sea Salt (to taste)

 

If you want to add a bit of protein, add in a spoonful of kidney beans, tofu cubes or meat slices. Also, for extra nutrition, add in a pop of colour like a slice of persimmon, orange slices, red apple, or a few baby spinach leaves.

 

Directions:

  • Bring the coconut milk and water to a boil in a medium pot.
  • Lower the heat to a simmer and add the okra. Cook until tender, about 10 minutes.
  • Stir in the cornmeal, butter, and salt. Reduce the heat to low and cover with a lid. Cook for five minutes.
  • Scoop and press the polenta into a bowl.
  • Invert it into the lunchbox to create a dome.
  • Serve and enjoy!

 

Assemble:

Decorate the dome by surrounding it with a few items for colour and added nutrition for example:

  • baby spinach leaves with a couple of cherry tomatoes
  • tofu cubes with snap peas
  • sliced pears and a small piece of ham

 

Mexican TVP Tacos (Vegan)

 

TVP = Textured vegetable protein is a new addition to my kitchen as we are exploring different ways to reduce meat in our household. If it’s too strange, then please substitute with minced meat or black beans.

 

Serves: 4

Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:

100 g Textured Vegetable Protein “crumbs”

Extra virgin olive oil

12 g taco seasoning

100 g mashed avocado

8 corn tortillas, or other tortilla

100 g green lettuce, shredded

4 g coriander, optional

Salsa or other type of dressing (squeeze of lime is also great)!

 

Directions:

  • Rehydrate the textured vegetable protein by placing it in a bowl and covering it with boiling water. Cover the bowl and let sit for 10 minutes.
  • In a pan over medium heat add the oil. Add the textured vegetable protein and taco seasoning and cook for 12 to 15 minutes.
  • Spread the guacamole over the tortillas. Top with texture vegetable protein, lettuce, and coriander. Top with the dressing, wrap it up and place into lunchbox. Viola!

 

Italian Chicken & Pesto Wrap

This one might be more for the teenager than the younger school child. It has lots of flavour and can be a bit green if you choose the basil pesto. My kid will eat anything with pesto on it. And he will eat anything in a wrap. So… win, win!

 

Serves: 1

Ingredients:

16 grams store bought pesto

14 grams mayonnaise

1 whole wheat tortilla or gluten free version

Handful of rocket leaves, to taste

¼ avocado, sliced

45-50 grams chicken breast, cooked and shredded

 

Directions:

  • Prep your ingredients.
  • Mix the pesto and mayonnaise in small bowl.
  • Place tortilla on a cutting board and spread the mixture on top. Place the chicken, rocket, chicken, and avocado on top. Wrap gently, cut in half. Pack and done!

 

Universal Veggie Soup

If you plan on adding a cup of soup in a thermos for your child or teen, keep it simple. This is in addition to one of the above recipes and not to be eaten alone.

Every tradition has their own version of a soup. To make this quick, I use an already made broth in the store as I haven’t had time to make my own broth on the weekend lately. You can change it up with a few different seasonings, veg or type of noodle.

 

Basic Broth

1. Buy an already prepared broth that is low or contains no sodium (salt). If you can get organic, super, if not, no worries. You can choose a chicken broth or veggie broth. Then see what you have as leftover in the fridge.

2. Heat it up one portion or one cup. Then choose one of these worldly veggie upgrades for a different taste and flavour experience!

Asian Influence – Sesame Noodle Soup

Grate a bit of carrot into the broth (a tiny bit.) Add ¼ tsp of sesame oil with ¼ cup of already cooked noodles to the broth. I use leftover spaghetti. Pepper and done!

North American Influence – Butternut Squash Soup

To the broth, add ¼ cup already cooked butternut or squash, pepper, and a splash of orange juice. Heat through. Puree and pack. Done!

English Influence – London Particular Pea Soup

Into the broth, shred a bit of carrot, celery and optionally a tiny piece of ham, bacon, or vegan sausage. Add a ¼ cup of already cooked peas, heat throughout and then puree. Pack and done.

Mediterranean Influence – Minestrone

Into the broth, shred a bit of carrot, celery and then add a 1tbsp of chopped tomatoes, a few kidney beans, a few green peas, and a squirt of tomato paste. Heat throughout. Season with salt and pepper. Pack and done.

Kid’s Influence – Hot Dog Soup

What kid doesn’t love hot dogs? Start with your broth, pop in a spoon of frozen green peas, a squirt of tomato paste, stir. Slice 1 hot dog into bite-sized pieces and add to the soup. Heat until warmed throughout. Pack and done!

 

Wrapping Up!

  • Variety is the key when thinking about nutrition and planning meals.
  • Colour variety ensures you get the rainbow of different types of nutrition.
  • See what you have already in the fridge and use leftovers wherever possible to make your life easier.
  • See if you can pack yourself a lunch as well to save time and money.

 

AND GO SLOW

Do not make a huge change all at once to your child’s lunch box. We all love comfort. We all need consistency. There is a place and importance for the ham sandwich for just that reason. Just make sure to add a spinach leaf and a couple of slices of fruit along with some Juice Plus+ Chewables and you’ll be all set.

 

Wishing you ease in the kitchen this year!

Vanessa

Health & Wellness Coach

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