So, we’re midway through the final term of the year here in Aus…and it’s usually around this point I find that the inspiration from new recipes gathered over the previous holidays has run out and I am back to packing the same thing day in, day out…ugh! Ali’s Instagram pic below pretty much sums it up, don’t you think?
I’m on the search for ideas and, my friends, I imagine I am not alone in feeling the daily grind of lunchbox prep, so I thought I’d share my findings with you too! Having dug around the site to round up some of Ali’s awesome suggestions, plus a few ideas I have come across recently to liven up the small human’s lunchbox, here are a few suggestions on how we can hopefully mix things up a little.
Sandwich Switch Up
Now, I have to admit, I am prone to packing a peanut butter sandwich.
Side note: Did you see this video that went viral of a ‘peanut butter hack’, it’s the ultimate way to overcomplicate the simplest sandwich on earth, brilliant. It’s been viewed over 13 million times and the response has been quite hilarious.
My child is gluten intolerant so making anything on gluten free bread that doesn’t taste like cardboard or come back untouched is still a win to be honest. But, I am going to try and change it up this week.
We can all get a little Insta food pic happy with this one from Ali:
Rainbow Sandwiches – Some kids love veggie sandwiches, but for the rest of them, add something they love to sweeten the deal. Some ideas are salty grilled haloumi, homemade nut spread (or nut-free alternative), sweet chilli sauce, homemade tomato sauce, bacon, salami or ham, crushed boiled egg, or cream cheese. For more on how to get your kids to eat a rainbow click here.
Mini Burgers – Usually at some point I’ll make mini burgers or ideally buy the leanest possible when I can’t make my own. I tend to serve them with a rice/quinoa mix and a pile of veggies to avoid bread overload.
Side note: Quinoa is a good source of several minerals, including manganese, phosphorus, copper, folate, iron, magnesium and zinc. It is also relatively high in protein compared to other grains, and provides all the essential amino acids.
Save a cooked mini patty for a sandwich the next day, top with cheese and pickled veg – Ali has the best pickled veg recipe here or go bread free and pack one sliced with some rice/quinoa and chopped veg.
Holy Scroly – This is more about mixing up the presentation, but take a single piece of bread, cut off the crusts and roll out with a rolling pin to about 3mm – you want it to be flexible like a wrap, but not too thin so it doesn’t split as you go. Spread or cover thinly with your choice of filling and then the fun begins…make like a sushi chef and gently roll that puppy up. Depending on your choice of filling you can chop it into bite-sized pinwheel portions or leave it whole, nori roll style. To be honest, I just really enjoy the process of making these and they always look enticing…some good combos so far have been; cream cheese and grated carrot; ham, cheese and pickle; chopped chicken with mayo and sweetcorn; peanut butter and banana for a sweet treat if eating straight away. Some other good combos; egg or tuna mayo; sliced halloumi, honey and grated apple; grated carrot, cucumber and tofu, vegemite and grated cheese…as long as the filling can be spread, thinly sliced or rolled, any combo will work! I tend to pack the roll seam side down or tightly pack the bite sized portions together to help them keep their shape.
Tasty Treat Tuesday
I’m in love with this super simple, gluten and dairy free recipe for what we call at home ‘chickpea pancakes‘ – but they are also like mini flatbreads and work just as well with savoury or sweet toppings. I make a batch for afternoon tea topped with banana and honey and then use the leftovers for the lunchbox – and usually steal a few for us grown ups to enjoy with dips in the evening.
Chickpea Pancake Recipe:
Make the batter by whisking 1 cup of chickpea flour, 1 dsp of olive oil, a pinch of salt and 200ml water in a bowl. Make sure there are no lumps. It will be very runny, but this results in subtly moist pancakes, so stick with it!
Brush a frying pan with a light coating of olive oil and warm over a medium heat.
Drop 1 tablespoon of the mixture per pancake into the pan (this yields a thin crumpet sized pancake – I can usually fit 4-5 in the pan at a time). I usually watch for the bubbles then flip and cook until golden, approx 1-2 minutes each side once I get going.
For the lunchbox I make little smaller sized pancakes using a desert spoon of batter each and sandwich two with either nut butter, cream cheese & jam or grated cheese & honey (small person’s fave combo!). You can also pour the batter in strips spread with your chosen topping and roll ’em up (this works best when they are warm and still flexible).
Makes 12 x regular and 6 x smaller ‘pancakes’
Here is my savoury snack version from this evening, with spicy capsicum salsa, sooo gooood!
Mini Muffins – The key here is to keep the portion size small so they don’t fill up on them before they get to the rest of the lunch (because you know they’ll eat them first!) Ali has a great recipe here
Remember: Treats don’t have to be sweet – The aim is to include a ‘sometimes’ food as a surprise. If, like my small human, your little one is a fan of anything crispy and salty, then adding a few Vege Chips or whatever floats their boat to their lunchbox counts as a treat and can be mixed with a few healthy crackers etc. You’ll find more on how to include treats in a healthy way here.
Nude Food Wednesday
This was something set up at the school and though they don’t enforce it, I’ve become a bit of a nude food fanatic. Here are some great suggestions from Ali on how to make the change:
- Switch out a pack of cheese & crackers for a little reusable tub filled with slices of their favourite cheese and a few crackers from a larger pack.
- Buy a party size pack of chips/popcorn/pretzels (whatever takes their fancy) and pack a mix of a couple of the less healthy with a few more of a healthier option such as plain rice crackers
- Sultanas don’t need to come in a tiny box, just add a few directly into the lunchbox – go on, you can do it!
- Our favourite option is to make your own where possible; mini muffins, energy balls or bars, popcorn, muesli trail mix, cheese puff pastry twists, spiced pita chips etc. Add a tub of homemade dip such as taramasalata, hummus, zucchini tzatziki, mixed veggie dip etc packed into a reusable container.
For more ways to ‘go nude’ with your food click here.
Delicious Dips Thursday
While I have visions of a uniform coming home covered in hummus or tzatziki it never actually happens, so this week I will be chopping up some cucumber and carrot strips to be dipped into one of the below. If you have time to make your own I’ve included some recipe links from a few of my favorite sites.
Guacamole – Recipe here
Tzatziki dip – Recipe here
Sun-dried tomato baba ganoush – Recipe here
Hummus – Recipe here
Bread Free Friday
There are lots of people going bread free in the lunchbox these days, well according to my Instagram feed at least(!) and I’m always on the look out for simple alternatives. Obviously a great way to go is with leftovers, maybe a pasta or rice dish from the previous night that tastes yummy cold. For those who can tolerate dairy I also love the idea of a mini frittata or savoury muffin to tick off a few protein points.
I am always time poor in the evening, so this super quick recipe works perfectly – I also don’t use flour due to the gluten intolerance but here is a great recipe if you want a more ‘muffiny’ texture. There is also the added bonus that I can make some for a grown up lunchbox too adding a bunch of veg and some spinach leaves:
Mini Egg Frittatas
Heat the oven to 180C
Either grease a muffin tin or line with muffin cases – sometimes the cases help convince the small ones it’s a treat! If you feel inclined you could alternatively grease the tin and line with a ham slice as the ‘case’.
In each hole drop a small cheese cube and add a tablespoon of any veg you have to hand…peas, broccoli, small cubes of cooked carrot, pumpkin, zucchini all work well, but any combo you know will reel them in is good. You will need one egg per serve – gently mix as many as required in a bowl until combined. Pour the mixture into each hole filling to the halfway mark.
Pop in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and firm.
I love Ali’s suggestions below for salad combos.
“Bowls” are a trending cafe item at the moment, so follow the masses and give your kid a mix of their favourites. If salad leaves are part of the salad, rather than the base, the salad will easily hold up during the day without getting soggy. Try this basic equation for lunch salads:
- Base: try a grain like barley, rice, pasta shapes, quinoa, couscous. Most of these can be cooked and frozen in batches – ready to thaw in the fridge overnight and put into the thermos in the morning.
- Healthy bits: add a bit of baby spinach, small chopped veggies in a variety of colours (roasted, steamed or raw), tinned beans, (such as butter beans, chick peas etc), frozen podded edamame, soft boiled egg, some protein such as shredded chicken or tinned salmon or tuna
- Crunchy bits: toasted seeds or nuts, crispy fried noodles (packet), fried shallots (from the asian section in the supermarket)
- Flavour bits: try crumbled feta, currants/sultanas/cranberries, sweet pickled onion, chopped fresh herbs, bacon bits (chopped and fried), a spoon of pesto.
If you’d like more sandwich free ideas click here.
So, now I have plenty on my to-do list! Hope you found this useful too!