kids

Kids' Lunch Diaries: A mum of four shares exactly what they're eating this week.

Natural Chip Co
Thanks to our brand partner, Natural Chip Co

When I was a kid, my mum would send us to school with our lunch packed in a brown paper bag.

She would make five lunches the night before and we would collect our brown bags from the crisper in the morning. Inside these brown paper bags were delicious sandwiches, often a little too gourmet for my unsophisticated palate at the time.

Chicken schnitzel, lettuce and mayo sandwiches were her specialty and she included interesting snacks like pate and cheese, alongside a token piece of fruit. Her lunches were legendary at school.

She was clearly more enthusiastic about lunchboxes, or lunch bags as they were in my vintage, than I am. But she also had more time.

As a working mum of four kids aged 10 and under, I am time poor. Plus, my kids are fussy, so making sure they are happily eating everything in their lunchbox can be a challenge. But, despite the fact that I find the whole daily lunchbox rigmarole tedious, I’ve learnt how to make my girls’ lunches healthy, interesting and varied.

My girls are on “extended school holidays” due to the COVID-19 crisis, and as you read this, we may need to home school. I am used to putting together lunchboxes, so I am trying to maintain some kind of routine while they are currently at home.

Here are some of my best tips for preparing lunches – and lunchboxes – for four.

michaela fox
Four mouths to feed. No pressure. Image: Supplied.

The lunchtime breakdown.

I try to ensure that my girls’ lunches consist of protein, carbohydrates, vegetables and fruit. Changing up the carbohydrates is a great way to ensure variety. My 10-year-old prefers wraps to bread, my nine-year-old favours pasta over bread and my easy-going eight-year-old enjoys wraps, pita, bread and pasta. She’s my adventurous one and even likes olives and fennel.

I include a few serves of fruit and veggies in every lunchbox. Again, I like to mix it up. And again, they have different tastes. One prefers fruit over veggies, another prefers veggies to fruit and my adventurous one eats it all. As such, our crisper offers plenty of choice including carrots (particularly tasty with hummus) cucumber, tomatoes, celery, cold potatoes (leftover from dinner) and our fruit bowl is overflowing with seasonal fruit.

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veggie rings
Simple, delicious and balanced: A typical lunchbox in our household. Image: Supplied.
fruit box
Just add fruit. Image: Supplied.

The sugar question.

I subscribe to the “anything in moderation” approach to most things in life, and food is no exception. I tend to adopt the 80/20 rule, which allows for a small treat. This might include a small muffin or cookie or some homemade banana bread (read: cake!). While I don’t ban sugar completely, I make a conscious effort to minimise the amount of sugar in their lunchboxes. They get enough sugar at birthday parties and over at their nana’s house! On those occasions the sugar scales tilt considerably. But you don’t mess with nana’s rules.

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We have recently implemented a couple of SFDs (Sugar Free Days) in our family, and it’s working a treat. Mostly it’s only refined sugar that we cut out, which means dates get a green light and, when time permits, I bake sugar-free muesli bars.

Dealing with snack fatigue.

My girls will happily eat a healthy salad wrap or sandwich, but I find it harder to come up with snacks other than fruit. I fell into the habit of mixing up the main component of their lunch but forgetting to vary the snacks. My girls complained of ‘snack fatigue’ (or in their words: "boring"). I told them that I was suffering from food fatigue, but kids need to eat actual meals and snacks. Every. Single. Day.

I don’t have time to home bake snacks every day, so I need to rely on store-bought options. I was thrilled to discover the new Natural Chip Co Veggie Rings. Made with real veggies, they are 100 per cent natural with ingredients including corn, rice, sweet potato, pea and beetroot. They're low in salt, they're gluten free, and the flavours are kid friendly. It’s a 50/50 split between the tomato and cheese flavours in our household.

Having yummy snacks that don’t contain any nasties makes the daily lunchbox tedium a little less, well, tedious.

veggie rings
Veggie Rings are going down a treat. Image: Supplied.

The big secret to getting them to finish it all.

I’m not going to lie. Getting kids involved in any sort of food preparation is messy business. It requires you to relinquish control and if you rather, ahem, like control, it can make you break out in a sweat. It’s akin to letting the kids go rogue decorating the Christmas tree. Yep, it demands a certain zen-like approach that I do not naturally possess.

But one thing I have learnt, in 11 years of parenting, is the more involved they are in the meal prep, the more likely they are to eat it. When time allows, the kids help to prepare their lunch. If we are short on time, then they can just choose their snacks and a small treat. The cleaning up part is still a work in progress.

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Look, it will be messy. But she's so excited to eat the result. Image: Supplied.
Nothing like those good snacks too. Image: Supplied.

My kids' lunches aren’t fancy. There’s no food art or Insta-worthy creations. And there are no chicken schnitzel sangas like my mum used to make. But mostly the girls come home with empty lunchboxes, so I am chalking that up as a win. Certainly two out of my three school-aged kids happily eat everything. But there’s always one, right?

What's the secret to an empty lunchbox in your household? Share below.

Michaela Fox is a freelance writer, mum of four and Founder of Girls Thriving – an online community for mums of daughters.

Feature image: Supplied.

Natural Chip Co

Made with real veggies, absolutely nothing artificial and gluten free, The Natural Chip Co. Veggie Rings are the ideal lunchbox treat for your kids.

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