Have The Bento At The Ready - Here Are An Expert's Lunchbox Tips - The Grace Tales

Have The Bento At The Ready – Here Are An Expert’s Lunchbox Tips

My eldest son starts Year 1 this week, and as much as I'm very happy (read: SCHOOL HOLIDAYS HAVE NEARLY KILLED ME PLEASE SEND HELP) for him to be returning to school, I'm not so excited about the thought of re-entering the phase of lunchbox packing.

It seems that there is so much at stake. Packing the right nutritional content. Ensuring it’s easy enough to eat with one hand while the other throws a handball. Ensuring no plastic or packaging. Not delivering salmonella in the form of leftovers. 

So in order to make life a little more simple, I reached out to the wonderful, knowledge-filled Bernadette Hanly of Goodie Goodie Lunchbox, to share her tips on how to make the packing process as simple as possible, while ensuring lunchboxes return empty at the end of the day. 

Now, do you have your bento ready?

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We’re about to embark on lunchbox season. In your opinion, what makes for a good, well-balanced lunchbox? 

I try and achieve a balanced lunchbox by packing a variety of energy-sustaining foods. I opt for low added sugar and salt options and try to get a good serve of protein and carbohydrates in the lunchbox too.

I also try and balance food that is familiar to my kids with one small serve of a food that my kids are still learning to enjoy so that I am exposing them to new foods often but in a way that’s not confronting to them.

Do you have any favourite physical lunchboxes? Do you favour bento boxes or something similar?

I love bento lunchboxes for kids (and adults too for that matter) for three main reasons: 

  • Bento lunchboxes enable nude food. You can save money and the environment as you do not need to use plastic wrap or packaging.
  • The bento box design means you can offer a variety of foods all separated perfectly by the lunchbox compartments. Often bento lunchboxes will also be leak-proof so you can serve wet foods alongside dry foods. 
  • Good quality bento lunchboxes are more durable so you should not need to replace the lunchbox as frequently.

I have a few favourite brands that we alternate between but it really needs to suit your child’s appetite, what they like to eat (i.e. would they need a larger sandwich compartment for bread rolls or full-sized sandwiches) and their ability to open and close the lunchbox.

Another thing to consider is how the lunchbox will be stored at school. Is there a fridge? If not a good quality insulated lunch bag will keep food at a safe temperature and also protect your lunchbox from bumps and scrapes.

What elements should we be thinking of when we’re packing our kids’ lunchboxes - for recess, lunch and crunch n sip?

I like to pack one ‘main’ item, like sandwiches or wraps, one or two savoury snack options like cheese and crackers or pizza scrolls and one sweet snack option such as a homemade cookie or bliss ball. I also pack two vegetable options in the lunchbox and two fruit options.

It is also helpful to think about how your school has requested food be packed for these different breaks as some schools require these all packed separately. They also may request certain foods be packed for different breaks.

Another consideration is the size of the food you are packing. Our kids have such a short time to eat and they will often be in a rush to go and play so cut the food into manageable pieces for them.

What are some of your go-to items to pack? 

We love wraps and sandwiches and these are always eaten! For this reason, I generally fill my wraps and sandwiches with a serve of veggies like lettuce and grated carrot along with a protein – generally cream cheese for us.

I also always have a stash of pizza scrolls in the freezer for school lunches and my kids love nut-free bliss balls and cheese and crackers.

Looking outside of the sandwich square - what are some other great options for lunches that will get eaten? 

Sushi is always a great option for school lunches. Also pizza scrolls, pasta salads, savoury muffins or frittatas are perfect to pack in the lunchbox. My kids love leftovers – especially pasta – and if you get an insulated food jar you can pack these warm too.

How do you encourage parents to embrace no waste/no plastic/packaging in lunchboxes? 

As mentioned, bento lunchboxes are a great enabler of nude food in school lunchboxes but there are other ways you can achieve this.

Baking and making a lot of your lunchbox snacks will help reduce plastic waste. I tend to bulk bake in school holidays for school lunches and freeze for the term which saves me time. I routinely bake cookies, muffins and crackers and we will also make bliss balls for school lunches and freeze for later.

If you want to send things like potato chips buy the family serve bag and portion yourself in reusable snack bags or in the bento as needed rather than buying the individually portioned and packaged options. This is not only cheaper but also a way to reduce the overall waste in packaged snacks.

From a food waste perspective if there is food left in the lunchbox reoffer this for afternoon tea or even with dinner. I will often chop up cherry tomatoes or cucumbers that have been for a visit to school and back with our evening salad.

Do you meal prep for lunchboxes? If so, what are some good things to make in advance to have ready? 

I sure do! Most of my meal prep involves baking which I freeze for school lunches. Most baking will last for two-three months in the freezer so getting in the habit of bulk baking and freezing for later will save time, money and mean you will have a variety of options for when you need them!

I also like to prep ahead things like veggies or boil eggs on a Sunday so I can quickly grab these for school lunches. I have lots more tips on this topic here.

Other than the obvious (nuts!), what do you avoid packing in lunchboxes? 

It’s a great idea to check with the school if they have any other foods that are excluded due to anaphylaxis risk.

I also avoid packing sweets and lollies or any drink other than water for my kids.

Can you share a few of your favourite recipes for snacks and lunchboxes?

Some of my favourite recipes are these Make Ahead Pizza Scrolls. The kids adore them and they freeze really well.

We also love these Apple Pie Bliss Balls – packed with flavour they are a great nut and dairy free addition to the school lunchbox.

If your kids love cookies then these Carrot Cake Cookies are perfect for school lunches. Low in added sugar with some hidden veggies they are an absolute hit!

Do you engage your children in the packing of their lunchboxes? If so, how? 

Not in the physical packing of lunchboxes but that’s mainly because I share photos these as inspiration on Instagram otherwise this would be something I would do more of! We do discuss what they’d like in their lunchboxes and they help me back and make food for their lunchboxes.

Do you have any tips to make packing lunchboxes as painless as possible or to streamline the process?

One of my top tips is to pack your lunchboxes at night. There are somethings you don’t pack directly next to each other ie cheese and crackers. But for the most part school lunches will stay super fresh with the right lunchbox. Also this will help with defrosting those frozen goodies that you have made ahead of time!

To take this to the next level, you can even prep more than one lunchbox at a time.  One of my favourite hacks is to pack lunches on Sunday for Monday and Tuesday then again Tuesday night for Wednesday and Thursday and then again on Thursday night for Friday. Now, I realised that this is not possible if you only have one lunchbox but if you do, then this is the hack for you!