Government statistics show that nearly a third of children aged 2 – 15 are overweight or obese.
One way this can be battled is ensuring our children are having a balanced school lunch.
NHS Choices recommends a balanced lunch box should contain starchy foods, protein foods, a dairy item, vegetables or salad and a portion of fruit.
Jane Rylands is from the kitchen appliance manufacturer.
Here, she shares five of her favourite healthy recipes for kids’ packed lunches.
Getting your kids to eat healthily can certainly be a challenge, especially if they’re used to their packed lunches being filled with savoury convenience snacks and sweet treats. But, you can take steps to ensure they’re getting the required nutrition while keeping everything tasty and enjoyable.
Here, I will be sharing my top five healthy recipe ideas for your kids’ packed lunches.
1. Chicken and vegetable pitta pockets
Put a twist on the standard packed lunch sandwich with a stuffed pitta recipe.
Pittas are incredibly versatile and can be filled with many things to create a tasty lunchtime treat for your kids.
Making these chicken and vegetable versions are a great way to ensure your kids are getting plenty of protein (13g) and carbohydrates (17g) in their diet.
They’re quick and simple to make, too.
All you’ll need is:
· ½ wholemeal pitta
· 1 tbsp olive oil
· 25g skinless and boneless chicken breast (can be pre-cooked)
· ¼ cucumber (cut into chunks)
· 4 cherry tomatoes (halved)
· Salt and pepper (to season)
· Baking tray
Once you’ve collected your ingredients, it’s time to prepare the pittas:
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
2. Wash the raw chicken breast under cold water and pat dry with kitchen roll.
3. Place the raw chicken on a baking tray, brush the oil over, and season with salt and pepper.
4. Cut the chicken into 1cm thick strips and cook in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until the juices run clear.
5. Cut the pitta widthways into two.
6. Pack the chicken strips, tomatoes and cucumber into each half.
After assembling it, wrap the pitta in foil or put it in an airtight box in the fridge to keep the chicken chilled. You could even add your own touches to suit your children’s tastes — soft cheese would make a good twist, or you could add a marinade to the chicken. Don’t be afraid to get inventive with your pitta pockets.
2. Veggie tortilla calzone
Kids love finger foods, and pizza is no different. But, while I wouldn’t advise sending them off to school with slices of pizza, these tortilla calzones are a healthy way to add your kids’ favourite dinnertime treat into their packed lunch boxes.
For these, you’ll need:
· ¼ red pepper (deseeded and thinly sliced)
· ¼ green pepper (deseeded and thinly sliced)
· ¼ yellow pepper (deseeded and thinly sliced)
· ¼ carrot (grated)
· 60g mushrooms (sliced)
· 2 tomatoes (chopped)
· 1 tsp dried mixed herbs
· 1 soft wholemeal tortilla
· 40g cheddar cheese (grated)
· 1 handful mixed salad leaves
· Salt and pepper (to season)
You can then begin making the healthy calzone:
1. Preheat the grill to a medium setting.
2. Put the mushrooms on a baking tray and grill for 4-5 minutes.
3. Take the baking tray out and add the tomatoes, herbs, and salt and pepper.
4. Dry fry the tortilla and sprinkle a pinch of cheese over the top.
5. Cook the tortilla for 30-40 seconds in the pan, or until the cheese has melted.
6. Put the vegetable mix on one half of the tortilla, sprinkle the remainder of the cheese in and fold over the filling.
7. Cut the tortilla longways in half.
8. Transfer to the lunchbox and serve with the salad leaves and grated carrot.
For some added protein you could add some chicken or go Mexican themed and fill it with beef and vegetables that have been cooked in fajita seasoning. Your kids are sure to love having ‘pizza’ for lunch!
3. Cherry and chocolate popcorn crispies
A packed lunch isn’t complete without at least one small sweet treat.
So, give your kids something to get excited about with these popcorn crispies.
Just grab the following ingredients and you’ll be well on your way to making these delicious snacks:
· 2 tsp vegetable oil
· 100g popcorn kernels
· 2 egg whites
· 2 tsp cocoa powder
· 50g dried cherries (chopped)
· Bun cases
· Bun tray
These are quick and easy to make, so you could even enlist the help of your little one:
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C for fan assisted ovens) and put the bun cases in the bun tray.
2. Place the oil into a pan and add the popcorn kernels.
3. Put the lid on the pan and shake it to ensure all kernels are coated in oil.
4. Cook over a medium heat and shake occasionally when you hear the kernels start to pop.
5. Remove the popcorn from the heat and set aside to cool — there will be some kernels that haven’t popped so remove these.
6. Whisk the egg whites and cocoa powder together with a balloon whisk or electric hand mixer.
7. Tip the popcorn into the egg white mixture and add the cherries.
8. Mix everything together and share the mixture evenly between the bun cases.
9. Cook for 8-10 minutes and then leave to cool.
If your children aren’t big fans of cherries, you could try dried apricots, banana chips, or raisins to cater to their tastes. You could even make this into a traybake by patting the mixture into a baking tray and then cutting it into squares and finishing with a thin drizzle of dark chocolate.
4. Pasta with 6-veggie tomato sauce
If your kids do anything to avoid eating vegetables, sometimes hiding them in their meals is the only way to ensure they’re getting some of their five a day.
This clever pasta sauce includes 6 different vegetables that are blitzed together with tomato sauce to disguise them and create a tasty sauce.
For this recipe, you’ll need:
· 2-4 tbsp pasta — this will depend on how old your child is so check against recommended guidelines.
· 1 onion (finely chopped)
· 1 garlic clove (crushed)
· 1 tsp dried mixed herbs
· 1 celery stalk (trimmed and finely chopped)
· 1 leek (trimmed and finely chopped)
· 1 carrot (peeled and finely chopped)
· 1 bell pepper (finely chopped)
· 1 courgette (finely chopped)
· 1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
· 1 tbsp tomato puree
· 250ml vegetable or chicken stock
· Hand blender
You’ll then need to follow this recipe:
1. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions, drain with a colander and set aside.
2. Heat the oil in a saucepan over a medium heat.
3. Add the onion, garlic, and mixed herbs to the oil and stir.
4. Put the rest of the vegetables in the pan and cook with the lid on for around 20 minutes (or until they have gone soft).
5. Pour in the tinned tomatoes, stock, and tomato puree and combine well.
6. Bring the pan ingredients to a boil, reduce the heat, and leave to simmer for another 20 minutes.
7. Take off the heat and blend together until smooth — hold the blender at the bottom of the pan to minimise splashing.
8. Put the pasta in with the sauce and mix together.
The best part about this recipe is that you can add as many veggies as you’d like, and it’ll still look like a normal pasta sauce. You can even double the quantities and batch cook this sauce, so you always have it on hand for an easy dinner or lunchbox meal.
5. Sweet potato crisps
Convenience snacks may be quick and easy to grab, but you can actually make healthy versions at home for much cheaper.
These sweet potato crisps take around 20 minutes to make and can be kept in an air-tight container for the whole family to enjoy when they need an afternoon pick-me-up.
And all you’ll need are these three things:
· ¼ small sweet potato
· ½ tbsp olive oil
· Baking tray
The method is quick and easy as well:
1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (180°C for fan-assisted ovens).
2. Chop the sweet potato into slices that are approximately the thickness of a £1 coin.
3. Put the sweet potato slices into a bowl and add the oil.
4. Stir the slices around to coat them all with oil and put on a baking tray.
5. Roast the sweet potato in the oven for 15-20 minutes until they’re crispy.
6. Leave to cool before packing them up into a lunchbox.
Vegetable crisps are not only healthy but also taste delicious, so give this a go and feel free to try it with different veggies as well: carrots and butternut squash work really well.
Trying to make your kids' packed lunches healthy can be difficult when they’re picky or you don’t have the time to think of new and novel ideas. But, with my top five recipes, you can send your kids to school with nutritious lunchboxes that were hassle-free to make!