Buy own brand.
- A lunchbox, according to the HSE Healthy Lunchbox leaflet, should contain:
- A portion of vegetables / salad or fruit.
- A portion of meat or meat alternatives eg eggs, fish, beans and pulses.
- A portion of wholemeal breads or cereals.
- A portion of dairy, eg milk, yogurt, cheese.
Sausage rolls - something that children are happy to make, and to eat. Ring the changes by grating apple, onion, carrot or courgette into the sausage filling, spreading the pastry with a layer of mustard or relish before filling, or crumbling some black pudding into the mix. Make ahead to freeze uncooked and bake from frozen (adding 7-10 minutes extra baking time) or freeze cooked, to defrost in a lunchbox.
Rice paper rolls - this might just be the easiest way of getting children to eat lots of crunchy vegetables. Find rice paper wrappers at most supermarkets or Asian food shops, dip each one in water to soften and then fill with lettuce, rice vermicelli noodles, thinly sliced peppers, carrots and cucumber. Add cooked shrimp, chicken or tofu for extra protein. Fold and roll tightly. Pack a small tub of sweet chilli sauce for dipping. These will dry out if made too far in advance but can be covered loosely with damp kitchen town for lunchbox packing.
Hummus and vegetables - don’t forget the old favourites. A selection of crunchy vegetable sticks - carrot, cucumber, celery, radish - works well with a small tub of hummus and some pretzels or crackers.
Snack boards - it’s all in the name and doesn’t an after-school snack board sound so much better than plain cheese and crackers? Make it extra nutritious and colourful by cutting fruit and veg into bite sized pieces to serve alongside some slices or chunks of cheese and a couple of different crackers. Fancy? It’s all in the way you serve it up!
Cookies - the rule in our house is if they make it, they can eat it. Weekend baking with kids pays dividends during the week when a tin of cookies is set aside for snacks. The United Nations of Cookies by Jess Murphy and Eoin Cluskey (Blasta Books, 2022) is an essential guide to great international cookies with Irish influences.
Smoothie bowls - much loved on TikTok, a smoothie spooned from a bowl rather than sipped from a glass is obviously a very different offering to what I’ve been making for the girls all along. These bowls of fruit and yogurt got a big thumbs up in our house after the girls made them during one of Mahon’s online summer camps. Make the smoothie base by blending frozen berries and bananas with yogurt, pouring it into bowls and topping with a variety of fresh fruit. Make ahead and store in the freezer for warm autumn days.
Go nuts - Mahon likes to include protein-rich nuts and nut butter in a snack.
“I’m a big fan of having a small handful of raw unsalted nuts or rice cakes and crackers with some nut butter as an after-school snack. Most schools don't allow nuts or nut butter because of allergies but kids love the stuff and it's full of protein so it's perfect as a snack after school to fuel them until dinnertime.”
Read the labels and avoid nut butters with added sugar and palm oil.
Waffled quesadillas - do you have an old waffle iron languishing in the cupboard? Put it to good use by repurposing it to make quesadillas with wholewheat tortillas and grated cheese. Don’t fill too much or this gets messy.
● Lunches don’t need to be Instagramable.
● Stick with reusable lunchboxes and water bottles. Less environmental waste is often also easier on your pocket.
● If you buy something new for lunchtime packing, make sure that kids can use it with ease.
● Label everything. It’s expensive having to replace bits and pieces halfway through the year.
● Go bento box-style by adding your own little boxes to their lunchboxes. It doesn’t have to cost much - a friend washed out all her old Play-Doh tubs and uses them for packing everything from slices of cucumber to crackers.
● Get the kids to make as much of the lunch as possible, choosing from parent-approved options. Everyone’s a winner in this situation.
● If they don’t eat it, don’t stress.