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How to pack a cool lunchbox that is appealing and nutritious.

Here are some great suggestions from the book The Cool Lunchbox for children and moms-on-the-go.

How many times have you been confronted by a lunchbox that needs to be filled, and wondered what on earth to put into it? Or, worse still, one that comes back and has hardly been touched? Most children leave home early in the morning and only return in the afternoon, so the majority of their nutritional needs must be met by the contents of their lunchbox. Preparing a packed lunch or lunchbox needn’t be a drudge.

In fact, with a little creativity, the packed lunch can become the highlight of the day. Approach packing a lunchbox as if you’re packing for a picnic – it will make the task more fun and more rewarding.

Also, try out these lekker lunchbox ideas.

Simply Sandwich

It’s still the most important lunchbox item. No matter what form it takes, a sandwich still provides most of your child’s energy requirements. Other items, such as the fruit, provide the roughage and vitamin and mineral requirements.

The sandwich should never be boring. Alternate the choice of bread daily (and cut into interesting shapes using a cookie cutter) or opt for ready-to-bake rolls.

Great Fillings
  • Thinly sliced, smoked chicken breast with cucumber, lettuce and mayonnaise
  • Spread avocado mixed with a little lemon juice on one slice of bread, and low-fat cottage cheese on another. Sandwiched together, they make an interesting combination!
  • Experiment with cold meats… and try different flavour combinations: mild chutney with roast beef or creamed horseradish instead of mayonnaise on a chicken or turkey roll
  • Sliced gherkins give a cold-meat and lettuce sandwich a lift
  • Chunky cottage cheese with toasted sunflower seeds, thinly sliced pineapple and a drizzle of honey
  • Finely grated biltong with low-fat cream cheese and cucumber
  • Chopped crispy bacon and peanut butter
  • Tinned tuna mixed with finely chopped tomato, avo and mayonnaise.

If you’re children are tired of the same old boring sandwiches, try these ideas for simple yet tasty fillings.

Cool Lunchbox 1

  • Wholewheat roll with roast beef: ready-to-bake multigrain wholemeal roll spread with chutney/mild mustard/creamed horseradish, lettuce and thinly sliced roast beef.
  • Small tub of fruit or plain yoghurt (and a spoon).
  • Fruit portion: small containers of dried pears, dried fruit roll shapes or sliced kiwi fruit.
  • Water and/or juice.

Vegetarian option: Substitute roast beef with goat’s cheese and cucumber.

Cool Lunchbox 2

  • Wholewheat or rye bread spread with creamed honey, Marmite, Bovril or any favourite spread.
  • Mini kebabs with small cubes of tomato (or baby tomatoes), gherkin and cheese wedged together on either side of a portion of rolled turkey, ham, chicken, beef or other cold meat. (Use toothpicks for the kebab, but these are suitable only for children older than four years.)
  • Raw baby carrots – washed but not peeled.
  • Mini rice cakes with yoghurt topping.
  • Fruit portion: container of sliced pawpaw or seasonal fruit.
  • Water and/or juice.

Vegetarian option: Simply leave out the cold meat, and add a container with a few roughly chopped cashew nuts.

The Fruit Lunchbox

Fruit kebabs are a great way to portion fruit. They’re easy to eat and look appetising. Select fruits that complement each other, cut into bite-sized chunks and string onto a skewer or toothpick, alternating colours and textures.

Try these combinations:

  • pawpaw (or guava), banana, pear, orange, strawberry
  • guava, strawberry, kiwi fruit, sweet melon
  • watermelon and black grapes, interspersed with mint leaves
  • banana and strawberry (squeeze of lime or lemon juice to prevent discoloration).

The Sports Lunchbox

Optimum performance on the sports field is ultimately determined by the general health of yourself or your child. These lunchboxes have been packed according to a specific formula, but you may adapt the quantities according to your child’s needs and level of activity.

Sports Lunchbox 1
  • Cool, fresh water
  • Grape juice
  • Brown rice salad. Combine chopped tomato, onion or spring onion, garlic, cucumber, avocado chunks, sunflower seeds and diced mozzarella cheese. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over, to prevent the avo from discolouring. Add cooked and cooled brown rice to the above mixture, along with some chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, basil or coriander, or be daring and use some of each. Drizzle with good quality olive oil to moisten.
  • Fruit portion: apple or pear, or whatever is in season.
  • Banana muffin.
Sports Lunchbox 2
  • Cool, fresh water
  • Apple juice
  • Salmon croissant. Mash avocado with enough lemon juice to prevent discoloration, and season to taste. Spread thickly on the base of the croissant. Top with flakes of tinned salmon and chopped fresh chives, gherkins or even capers for a more sophisticated flavour. Wrap in wax wrap before placing into a sandwich bag.
  • Cucumber fingers.
  • Fruit portion: watermelon wedges

Read our article on budget-friendly, healthy lunchboxes.

Tips for packing the perfect cool lunchbox

The contents of children’s lunchboxes should:

  • provide the necessary nutrients to sustain a child’s busy schedule
  • be visually appealing to entice them to eat
  • be as simple as possible, so that it can be eaten in the shortest possible time
  • include items that encourage repeat visits to the lunchbox during the course of the day
  • include easily digestible foods – lunches are often eaten in haste and not chewed properly.

How to avoid lunchbox frenzy

Start with dedicating a space in the pantry or grocery cupboard, or a separate drawer for snack items. Make sure you have a number of small containers of varying sizes, plastic spoons and/or forks and some colourful paper serviettes. The lunchbox container itself also requires some thought. Find one that will take all your child’s snacking goodies without squashing the items, and is deep enough to fit in a few extra little containers for those little nibbles.

Read more: easy lunchbox ideas and cool lunchbox fillings.

The Cool Lunchbox by Sandy Harper was published by Struik Publishers 

Sandy Harper