Hands up who is already struggling with lunchboxes? Don’t be shy. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Oh, I see. Quite a few of you… You, in the banana-coloured shirt – oh, that is banana, sorry – sobbing silently and clutching your temples: it’s okay. You are in good company. Almost everyone fears the dreaded lunchbox… And don’t we tell our children that facing our fears makes us stronger?. ..Don’t stand too close to that open window. You’re making me nervous.
I am not going to lie and say “food to glow to the rescue” and then give a magical list of easy recipes that little Harry and Chloe will willingly scoff while simultaneously texting ‘ thank you.’ This is after all a recipe blog, not a fiction-writing blog. What I will offer is a gem of a healthy snack that kids and adults will love, and a few thoughts on feeding children. This could also apply to tricky partners.
For a fair few years my Miss R has been getting her school’s exceptionally good, nutritious lunches. So my role as the meal provider has been somewhat truncated. But, from what I can dimly remember, this five day a week, nine months of the year duty falls into two camps. Either it is seen as a welcome challenge to creativity – devising an ever-changing rota of interesting, healthy and delicious lunches that will not go all science experiment by noon, and also not attract the name-callers (‘Look at Mitt Romney with his foie gras and kumquats’). Bully for them. Or, for about 99% of parents, the filling of the lunchbox is about as dreaded as the filing of the tax form – and that only comes once a year. Hair pulling-out stuff.
The easiest route is to obviously give them exactly what they want, be it a tuna-stuffed wholemeal pitta (it could happen), or more likely a slice of American cheese between two slices of enriched white bread. And there is nothing wrong with occasionally having the latter. I am not a food snob. But we know that, at least until they move out, we are ostensibly in charge. Not only for putting a roof over their heads, moral guidance, safety and love, but also food and nutrition. And I kind of think that food and nutrition gets put on the back burner these days. Not by you, dear reader, otherwise you wouldn’t be here reading this, but by a sizeable chunk of us in the Western world, where ease, volume, ‘value’ for money and blandness is more attractive than what is good for us and actually tastes of something real.
Quite a number of people in my cancer nutrition classes have school-aged children. In among the usual questions about how to tackle treatment-related eating challenges, the issue of feeding families often comes up. And other parents often chip in with good, wise advice. Tips that come up include having the kids help with the shopping list and with some of the prep (once you’ve been seen to do something specifically for them), asking them what seasonal fruit (or whatever) they would like to try that week , or if they want to have a theme – like Caribbean or Italian.
But the biggest tip is giving them a choice. Not just a free choice, but a choice from things that you approve of and are able to easily make/assemble. For instance, you might give as options (leftover) roast chicken wrap with (bottled) salsa, pasta salad with things they like in it, cut up frittata, vegetable pizza slice (on pitta or muffin?), a cheese and tomato sandwich. And it doesn’t have to be traditional lunchbox food – leftovers of what they ate and enjoyed the night before, or even something like chicken noodle soup in a flask may all be accepted. You would know best what might be acceptable to your child.
Bear in mind textures too as this can often be a stumbling block. Crunchy over slimy wins every time: carrot batons, crisp plums, pitta chips (just snip up wholemeal pittas and bake until dry) with refried beans mixed with ketchup, or a bright veggie dip- that kind of thing.
And another thing I would add is to pick your battles. The quickest way – as you will know – to make a child not want something is to say they have to have it. The more we insist that they have to have wholemeal bread with ‘bits’ in the less likely they are to eat it. Far better to get necessary fibre by adding in another serving of fruit or a portion of cut up crudite vegetables, or even some baked vegetable crisps. Once they get to school it is hard to control what they eat, so make it easier on yourself by being prepared to comprise in offering reasonable choices and then actually letting them choose.
Food to glow isn’t specifically aimed at providing advice to families so I won’t carry on too much more in this vein. Especially because there are some wonderful websites and blogs out there with lots of different ideas for most any family situation you can think of. Here is a small selection of links to go to if you are one of the many for whom mornings are an Olympic-sized headache.
Healthier Lunch Boxes – UK government/health promotion guidance for schools on helping parents and carers provide better lunch boxes
Taste.com.au – links to recipes
Netmums – lots of tips in this link
Lunch Ideas for Picky Eaters - from giftedkids.com
Lunch Box Ideas for Fussy Eaters – from the planningwithkids.com blog
Back to School Breakfast and Lunch Favorites – from the Spicy RD
And speaking of Olympics, I have been trying very hard not to mention this, but I know that some of you read this not (just) for the recipes but for a bit of family news. And I actually have some for once. Here goes: yesterday my Mr A was one of eight people in the whole of Scotland to be a torchbearer for the London 2012 Paralympics. He was nominated by a very kind and inspiring person who wanted to recognise the work of Maggies’ Cancer Caring Centres in transforming the lives of those living with a cancer diagnosis. In the nearly 16 years since Maggie’s first started it has grown into an internationally-recognised and respected organisation supporting those with cancer and their families. This nomination and recognition is greatly appreciated not only by Andrew but also by all of the incredibly dedicated, compassionate and hugely effective people who work and volunteer at these special places. I am sure that while being embarrassed that I have highlighted this honour, he will be pleased to let everyone know that Maggies’ Cancer Caring Centres has been recognised in such a unique way.
In the lead up to the Paralympic Games we been made aware of some of the truly inspiring stories and sacrifices behind the success of the athletes that will be competing in a few days’ time, and met some of the parents and former athletes themselves. Talk about inspiring! It has been a huge pleasure for Miss R and me to have been caught up in the slipstream of pre-Paralympic excitement. But I know we haven’t seen anything yet. We are really looking forward to what will be a fantastic few weeks of sport and endeavour. Good luck to all of the competitors and their families. And well done Mr A. Miss R and I couldn’t be prouder.