Packed lunch ideas


For many mums, their child starting school brings with it the horror that is the packed lunch.

Child's lunchbox with sandwich and apple

For some folks this will mean topping up the tupperware for the first time, but as seasoned sarnie makers will attest, thinking up delicious morsels that your kids will actually eat (as opposed to leave/give away/throw in the nearest bin) can rapidly become a chore.

With that in mind, we've asked our culinary experts - you - to help us put together a list of their best packed lunch ideas in the form of a list of lunchbox dos and don'ts. So whether you're a new girl on the lunchbox block, or a veteran finder of week-old sarnies mouldering at the bottom of the schoolbag, read on...

Lunchbox dos

  • Copy the leading branded lunchbox ideas but substitute your own healthier versions. Get mini-pots of cream cheese and do your own 'sticks' of veg or toast. You can even buy a cartoon-branded container to rival the supermarket marketing ploys. MissHaversham
  • Allow your kids to be creative. My daughter hates sandwiches with a passion so we do a combo of pitta breads/tortillas/mini crackers with slices of cheese/ham/cucumber/cherry toms/carrot. The combos are packed and she's left to put her lunch together herself. Who needs lunchables, eh? VictorianSqualor
  • Count to five for each child – this is a good ploy when you're a bit brain-dead in the early morning: One: a sandwich/wrap/pasta. Two: a piece of fruit – plums are a good alternative to apples and the right size for most lunch boxes. Three: a drink (usually a carton of juice/bottle of water). Four: something else healthy - yoghurt/cheese/pack of healthy crackers. Five: a treat – whatever that means in your house! Maisykins
  • Utilise leftovers. Chicken drumsticks with the skin removed and cold frittata as well as cold rice or couscous with bits of veggies mixed in are popular. Also home-made chicken nuggets, cold sausages or fish fingers and pasta pesto with peas. Thomcat
  • Make extra when cooking for the grown-ups - I make meat/vegetable pasties, big ones for my husband's lunch and little ones for my daughter's lunch. Use leftover veg and pre-rolled pastry and they're really quick to make. Dingalongacow
  • Offer things you'd like to eat yourself. I love a tortilla wrap, with cream cheese then filled with chicken and grated carrot, rolled up and sliced into chunks. For dessert, add some natural yoghurt with a handful of frozen raspberries, which defrost during the morning. No more faff than a regular sandwich and yoghurt lunch but a bit more tasty. Janeite
  • Mix and match. If your child only likes sweet sandwiches, try giving them jam, then adding cheese or satay sticks alongside, so they get carbs and protein, just not in the same sandwich. Another trick for kids who hate veg is raw sugar snap peas - they're really sweet and great for dipping in cream cheese. willow
  • Go with a theme and surprise them (assuming they don't mind a bit of adventure). So falafel with hummus, pitta bread and vegetables on one day, mini samosas the next and a mini portion of Greek salad with feta and olives the next. ELR
  • Vary the monotony occasionally – for everyone's sake. Going to the supermarket the afternoon before a school trip and choosing their favourite items of crappery snackery was always a huge treat for my three older kids - they had uber-sensible packed lunches the rest of the time. JanH
  • Get them involved. Whether it's getting them to butter the bread or being more adventurous and whipping up a batch of super-healthy flapjacks packed with seeds and dried fruit. Anything they've helped to prepare is much more likely to get eaten. Carmenere
  • Use cutter shapes to make sandwiches more interesting. We have a teeny rabbit cutter that we used for Easter and heart-shaped cutters for Valentines as well as stars for everyday use. You might waste a bit of bread, but before we used cutters the sandwiches were often completely uneaten, now there are never any left. Thomcat
  • Reuse water bottles with sports caps. Those supposedly well-designed leak-proof special water bottles just end up breaking or leaking all over the place, so you're better reusing a normal bottle of water or squash. Mummypig
  • Use those 'lock and store' or clippit-type containers with the 'flaps' that hold the lid down and are airtight. Not only does this help save the planet by cutting down on plastic bags, it can also help save your sanity because you can make the lunch the night before and store it in the fridge without sandwiches going soggy. Hippipotami

Lunchbox don'ts

  • Despair if you don't have the time/ energy/inclincation to be creative every day - stick to the familiar formula if it works and then pick a day – say Friday - when you do something more original or exciting like savoury or sweet kebabs, or fruit dipped in melted cho (choc spread for the time-strapped). Maisykins
  • Forget to ask what the other kids in their class eat. Be prepared for some exaggerations – "oh, they all bring ten bags of crisps and six chocolate bars" - but it can work in your favour. If you suggest hummus/ soup/ carrot salad (delete as appropriate) they might dismiss it out of hand, but if Ollie always brings hummus/ soup/ carrot salad it suddenly becomes very desirable. Carmenere
  • Worry too much if they change their tastes. I was surprised how much influence my daughter's classmates had on her when she started school full-time - and this included debates about the contents of their lunchboxes! As long as they're still eating healthily you might need to go with the flow for a bit. Mercy
  • Forget to add an ice pack if there is anything that could go off in your child's lunch bag. Get gel-filled, malleable ones (the solid water filled ones are too heavy). If you can't get these freeze tubes of yoghurt/fromage frais – they thaw a bit but they keep things cool and you get less mess/wasp-attracting goo because they're in a tube. WanderingTrolley
  • Forget to test the temperature of hot food. Before you start sending your older child in with flasks of soup, do a couple of dummy runs filling the flask at breakfast and opening it at lunchtime, both to gauge how long it'll stay hot for and to make sure no one gets scalded. WanderingTrolley
  • Get too stressed about this variety business - after all, lots of adults eat practically the same breakfast and lunch everyday and we seem to survive! Gobbledigook


And finally...

  • Don't forget that what you pack is open to scrutiny - not just by other kids but by other mums. So if your child's going to a friend's house after school, make sure that's not the day you give in to Fruit Shoots and Greggs sausage rolls. Stick a few stray aduki beans/arugula leaves/seaweed sachets in the lunchbox. Your child might be a tad confused but your position as Alpha Mother will be assured for ever more! Willow

Useful links

For loads more ideas, recipes and answers to virtually any foodie question you can think of, check out the Food and Recipes discussions on Talk.

And if you need even more packed lunch ideas, or want to share your top lunchtime tricks, visit the lunch box recipes section of Mumsnet recipes.

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Last updated: 31-Mar-2014 at 12:00 PM