When I received an email from BritMums introducing the #FloraLunchbox Challenge, I couldn't help but smile. In my experience, there are two types of lunchbox mums (or dads, but it's usually mums for some reason !) - the ones who spend as little time as possible, making a week's worth of cheese or ham sandwiches and freezing them so they just have to pull one out every morning and shove it in a box with a banana, and the Bento mums, who make rainbow rice salad (with food colouring), spiralised carrots, sandwiches cut into exciting shapes with cookie cutters and eggs moulded into cute cartoon character shapes. I'm not being judgmental in the slightest - I'm somewhere in the middle, or more precisely, some days I'll be the former and other days I'll be the latter, depending on time and enthusiasm ! - but the important thing is not really what it looks like but what's going into your kids' tummies. There's nothing worse than a full lunchbox coming home at the end of the day, despite your best efforts to make an appealing and balanced packed lunch, and it's sometimes hard to know what else you can try, either because you have a picky eater or just to inject some fun into lunchtime.
A Flora-commissioned University of Leeds study recently revealed that only 1.6% of children in England receive a packed lunch that meets the nutritional standards set for school meals, with just 17% of lunches containing any kind of vegetables or salad. That's shocking and unsurprisingly, Flora wants to change that, so they have created a handy guide to help put together tasty, nutritious and above all balanced lunchbox combinations.
It's so easy to think that a packed lunch has to contain a sandwich but it doesn't - you could easily replace it with another carbohydrate such as rice, pasta or potato salad. Flora have gone for several dinosaur-themed lunchbox combos that ring the simple changes that you can make. I showed the leaflet to the Madhouse kids (you can see it on the Flora website too) and they loved the idea of selecting what they wanted from each section, just like putting together their choices for a kids' meal in a fast food restaurant !
The important thing is to pick something from each food group - the guide says that a main should be made up of wholemeal bread, pasta, pitta or bagel, with some form of Flora spread (they point out that Flora is lower in saturated fats than butter and provides a source of healthy Omega 3 and 6, which are needed for normal growth and to support the development of children), plus lettuce, sweetcorn, tomatoes or peppers and, as a source of protein, either grilled chicken, hummus, egg or tuna. This seems a bit reductive to me - other options such as salmon, ham or sliced steak work equally well in sandwiches or pasta/rice/couscous salads, but it's a good starting point. You should also add a snack - they suggest one or two portions from the following list : flapjack, rice pudding, dried fruit, banana bread, mini pretzels, granola bar, bread sticks, dips - and two portions of fruit from your five-a-day : blueberries, strawberries, banana, sugar snap peas, cucumber, broccoli, apple, grapes, satsuma, carrots, cherry tomatoes, celery. You may be thinking that your kids aren't keen on fruit but I always find that if I peel it and chop it into bite sized pieces (covered in a little lemon juice if it's something that will go brown quickly) in a little pot, they will always eat it.
I let Juliette put together her own packed lunch using the lunchbox guide and she happily bustled around the kitchen, plucking grapes and plums from the fruit bowl, making a ham and sweetcorn sandwich, adding some cucumber slices and cherry tomatoes and some snack packs of almonds and dried mango. I was slightly concerned at the complete lack of dairy so I sneaked in behind her and added in a few chunks of cheddar and two squeezy yogurt tubes (easier to fit in a lunchbox than a big pot and you don't even need a spoon !). I also added in a little note to make her smile - sometimes I'll write something silly, add a little doodle or share a silly rhyme. It's just an extra way of making lunchtime fun and making her more enthusiastic about opening her lunchbox !
Disclosure : This post is an entry for the #FloraLunchbox Linky Challenge, sponsored by Flora. Check out their lunch planner and recipe ideas here