Lisa Salmon talks to food writer Amanda Grant about the perfect packed lunch for children.
As the start of a new school year kicks off, the parents of around four million children will be dusting off lunch boxes ready to pack them with delicious delights.
And many of those parents will be planning the traditional sandwich, crisps and a biscuit combination, which can often be full of saturated fat, salt and sugar.
Certainly, a recent University of Leeds survey found that only one per cent of lunch boxes met the tough nutritional standards which are set for school meals.
Food writer Amanda Grant hopes her new book, Healthy Lunchboxes For Kids, will help parents realise it’s easy to abandon boring sandwiches and salty snacks, and replace them with balanced, healthy, packed lunches that children will enjoy.
“It’s all about giving them some goodness and keeping their energy up,” she says.
But it doesn’t mean spending hours in the kitchen, or being a culinary genius, she promises.
The mother-of-three explains that the trick is to make food for lunch boxes when you’re already cooking.
“I’m a busy mum – I’m working and I’ve got three little ones – so I understand about having to juggle lots of things.
“Cook extra pasta when you’re making a pasta dish anyway, or make double the amount of soup you need when you’re cooking it for dinner – this will help you prepare things that are a bit different.
“Even adults would get bored if we had a cheese sandwich every day.”
The book features everything from one-pot salads and hot food dishes to snacks and sweet ideas.
“The menu planner features turkey with cranberry sauce wrap on Monday, tuna and sweetcorn pasta on Tuesday, egg mayonnaise and watercress sandwich on Wednesday, sardine, lemon and lettuce sandwich on Thursday and butternut squash soup on Friday,” she says, with a smile.
“Healthy to me is all about variety,” she adds, suggesting that parents put some dried fruits in a child’s lunch box instead of fresh, or make a fruit smoothie at breakfast which can go into a bottle for lunch.
“It can be really simple and fit in with everyday eating – it’s just thinking about it slightly differently and not quickly whizzing things together in that breakfast madness when you’re trying to get the children fed and out of the house by a particular time.”
And different doesn’t have to mean difficult.
“It’s fine to give them a cheese sandwich, but how about trying cheese with grated apple in it, or cheese with beetroot?
“Just by varying it slightly, you’re not only making it less boring, but you’re introducing variety.”
Another important part of the healthy lunch box mindset is getting the kids involved in making their packed lunches. By doing so, parents can pass on some culinary skills to the kids and encourage them to eat what they make.
“As parents we get into this mindset of giving children something because it’s easy and we know they’ll eat it.
“We need to push ourselves out of that comfort zone. It may take a bit more effort, but the rewards are huge.
“Break the habit of giving them boring sandwiches. It’s easy.”
* Healthy Lunchboxes For Kids by Amanda Grant is published by Ryland Peters & Small, priced £10.99.
RED PASTA SALAD
* 100g pasta shapes
* 3-4tsp red pesto
* 4tsp creme fraiche
* 2 chipolata sausages, cooked and cooled
* 1/2 red pepper, deseeded and diced
* 6 cherry tomatoes, finely chopped
Cook the pasta in a pan of boiling water. Drain and return to the pan. In a small bowl, mix together the red pesto and creme fraiche. Thinly slice the cooled sausages diagonally. Add the pepper, tomatoes and sausages to the pasta and tip in the pesto mixture. Mix everything together and leave to cool.