Special Guest Post by Teri Lichtenstein of www.foodbytes.com.au.
Earlier this year, my son’s first month of starting school was off to a brilliant start. Within a few weeks he had a new best friend, he had not lost his school jumper (yet!) and every day he was eating a variety of healthy sandwiches that were packed each morning into his lunchbox. I should have known that things were going too well and I was being lured into a false sense of parent contentment!
After a few weeks of his lunchbox coming home empty each day except for some lonely crumbs, suddenly the gourmet (ish) sandwiches that I was preparing for him each day were staring at me when I unpacked his school bag at the end of the day. When I enquired as to why my fabulous sandwich combos were being ignored, I was told that 2 slices of breads and filling just don’t do the trick for him anymore. This got me thinking….what can I give him as a school lunch alternative that is healthy, won’t take a ridiculous amount of time to prepare and most importantly, will be tasty and eaten during the school day?
After a few weeks of recipe experiments and trying out a few different options, I developed a whole new menu range that appeals to his ‘no-sandwich-palate’ and also provides him with the right type of nutrition to keep his body and brain fueled through a long school day. Here are my top 7 sandwich-alternatives that you could include in a lunchbox for kids that ‘go-against-the-grain’ or even for those that love a sarmie, but sometimes want a bit of variety. Most of these are intended to be the main ‘lunch meal, but could also be a morning / afternoon snack in a variety of portioned sizes.
Salads are so versatile. I like to include loads of vegetables and easy legumes like canned chickpeas or beans. My kids love salads, especially during the summer months, and with a cool lunch box (thanks Fridge-to-go), it’s a great lunchtime option. The varieties are endless and I like to include a protein such as canned tuna, boiled egg, or shredded chicken.
I think every kid on this planet loves pasta and this is a real winner when it comes to the lunchbox. For a hot pasta meal, I recommend purchasing a food thermos so the pasta retains its heat. But a cold pasta salad is a great option too and a great base for adding a few vegies into the mix.
During the winter months, I often pack soup in the thermos. Soup is such a great meal to cook up as a huge batch with plenty for school lunch boxes. Add a variety of vegetables and meats or beans, as well as some pasta, and you have the three major food groups in one easy meal!
4. Bread alternatives
Sandwiches don’t have to be refined to two pieces of square sliced bread. You really are only limited by your imagination and most fillings can be added to wraps, English Muffins, bagels, pita pockets, rolls and even croissants!
One of my favourite and easiest household dinners is making a ‘leftover-fritata’. There is no set recipe as it involves using leftover vegetables that are starting to look a bit sad in your fridge drawer, add in a few eggs and some milk and voila, you have dinner! The second best part if that frittata is a really great school lunch box meal. Not only is it easy to pack and eat, but it’s also a fantastic way to get good quality protein (from the eggs) and some vegetables into your child’s growing body.
6. Finger Food
This includes everything from chicken drumsticks to sausage rolls and sushi. There really are so many options when it comes to sandwich alternatives and kids love to have food that they can easily hold and eat.
If sandwiches are not your child’s thing, try making them a smorgasbord of individual items that you know they enjoy. I recommend including some colours , a protein source and carbohydrate for energy. So this could be cut vegetable sticks, sliced cheese and some wholegrain crackers.
Whatever makes the cut into the lunchbox, one of the most important strategies you can have is empowering your child to get involved in choosing and helping to prepare their school lunchbox. Parents can do their part by providing a range of healthy foods (with a focus on whole grain carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables, and protein), but even from a young age, kids should be encouraged to play an active role in the foods that go into their lunchbox. And even if the humble sandwich is deleted from the menu, there are still plenty of nutritious choices that can keep the tummy full, the brain growing and a child enjoying all the contents of their lunchbox!
About the author
Teri Lichtenstein is a dietitian and nutritionist and director of FoodBytes, a nutrition consulting company that provides nutrition education and marketing services to the health and food industry. Teri is also a mum of two primary school aged kids. You can find out more about Teri and FoodBytes by visiting www.foodbytes.com.au.