Feeding your children can be a thankless and frustrating task at the best of times — but never more so than when it comes to packed lunches.
While your focus is on food that’s healthy, filling and nutritious, they’d rather tuck into a bag of crisps and a fizzy drink, which are not only bad for them but pricey, too.
So how do you make a week’s worth of healthy packed lunches they’ll actually want to eat — without breaking the bank?
London nutritionist Lily Soutter says a well-stocked lunchbox should contain five key components: starchy carbohydrates, protein, dairy, fruit and vegetables, as well as a bottle of water.
‘A healthy and nourishing lunch is crucial to fuel children throughout the day and to provide the right nutrients for learning and development,’ she adds. Here, cookery writer Sarah Rainey gives suggestions for cheap, tasty lunchbox-fillers — guaranteed to make school days easier for all…
Turn Sunday’s roast chicken into a tasty pasta salad by shredding any leftovers — this would also work with beef, pork or gammon — and stirring them into cooked pasta
Make lunchtime fun by serving dips with raw veggies: anything that you have in the fridge, such as carrot and celery sticks, sugarsnap peas or baby tomatoes
MONDAY: Leftover Sunday roast pasta
Turn Sunday’s roast chicken into a tasty pasta salad by shredding any leftovers — this would also work with beef, pork or gammon — and stirring them into cooked pasta.
If you can, swap white pasta for wholegrain to up fibre intake: this is packed full of manganese, a mineral essential for calcium absorption and vital to bone health. Chop leftover roast veg such as carrots and stir that in, too — and if there’s any gravy left in the jug, use this as a meaty pasta sauce.
Just don’t forget to pack a fork so they can tuck in!
Snack suggestions: A handful of grapes, a few small chunks of Cheddar (or any other hard) cheese.
DIY DRIED FRUIT
Dried fruit is expensive, and comes in packets far larger than the 30g serving nutritionists recommend.
So why not save money — and take back control over portion sizes — by making it yourself?
Preheat the oven to 50c and slice your fruit — berries work well, as do apples, oranges, pears, mangoes and pineapples — into very thin strips.
Arrange it in a single layer on a rack placed on top of a baking tray and bake for 6-12 hours, depending on the moisture content of the fruit, monitoring and turning every hour. Once dried, allow the fruit to cool for 24 hours before storing it in airtight containers. It’ll last around six months.
<!- – ad: https://mads.dailymail.co.uk/v8/ua/money/none/article/other/mpu_factbox.html?id=mpu_factbox_1 – ->
TUESDAY: Hummus and dippers
Make lunchtime fun by serving dips with raw veggies: anything that you have in the fridge, such as carrot and celery sticks, sugarsnap peas or baby tomatoes.
Save on shop-bought hummus by making your own: simply blitz together a cup of cooked chickpeas, a clove of garlic, a tablespoon of olive oil and the juice of 1 lemon.
Buy your chickpeas dried, rather than tinned: you can get 500g for under £2 at most supermarkets — a real saving on canned.
Serve with homemade tortilla chips: slice a tortilla wrap into wedges like a pizza and grill for five minutes until crisp. These will keep for up to a week in an airtight container.
Snack suggestions: A handful of dried fruit, such as apricots, or try rice cakes spread with nut butter.
WEDNESDAY: Odds-and-ends eggy muffins
Eggy muffins are a cheap, easy lunchbox filler — and you can make these with whatever odds and ends you have in the fridge.
Mix two eggs with three tablespoons of flour, a crushed clove of garlic and half a cup of milk.
Eggy muffins are a cheap, easy lunchbox filler — and you can make these with whatever odds and ends you have in the fridge
Now whisk in any or all of the following: a handful of grated cheese (any variety will do), a teaspoon of chopped fresh or dried herbs, a few sliced cherry tomatoes or peppers, salt and pepper, to taste.
Pour into 4-6 muffin cases and bake at 170c for 15 minutes until golden. Serve with cucumber wedges on the side.
Snack suggestions: Chopped melon or pineapple, unsalted popcorn.
THURSDAY: Pizza pitta pockets
Pittas, especially wholemeal ones, are an easy way to get fibre into your kids — and they’re perfect for mess-free eating. You can buy a pack of six for 50p at most shops.
Don’t splurge on fancy pizza toppers or tomato sauce: simply use a little tomato puree or low-fat ketchup to spread on the insides.
Then, fill your pittas with sliced tomato, grated cheese and a protein of your choice, such as ham or tuna, for the ultimate healthy ‘pizza’.
If using tuna, a source of brain-boosting omega-3, make sure it’s in spring water, not salty brine or fatty oil. Drain it well.
Snack suggestions: A small box of raisins, apple slices with cream cheese.
Pittas, especially wholemeal ones, are an easy way to get fibre into your kids — and they’re perfect for mess-free eating. You can buy a pack of six for 50p at most shops
FRIDAY: Sandwich stars and banana flapjacks
Inject some fun into Friday lunchtime by cutting their regular sandwiches into stars (or use whatever cookie cutters you have in the cupboard). And don’t waste the off-cuts — these can be dunked in egg and fried up for breakfast!
Swap pricey sandwich spreads for delicious DIY fillers: grated apple mixed with cheddar, carrot ribbons with cream cheese or chicken slices with curry-spiced mayo.
And wow your kids by whipping up a batch of banana flapjacks that’ll last all week. Mash three bananas with 200g oats, two tablespoons of honey and half a teaspoon each of vanilla extract and cinnamon, press into a lined tin and bake at 160c for 20 minutes.
Snack suggestions: Babybel cheese, a handful of nuts.
Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.