Like all parents, you want your child to enjoy their lunch and feel comfortable eating in any environment. Your child’s lunchbox needs to be practical, easy to identify and appealing to your child.
Choosing a lunchbox
There are many different types of lunchbox to choose from, so take time to select the style that will be most practical, big enough and attractive to your child.
- If they use a cane, or need to keep their hands free, they may find a rucksack style easier to carry on their back
- If your child finds fine motor skills a challenge then select a suitcase style lunchbox with one handle which is easier to carry and will have just one main lid to open (rather than separate compartments)
- Think about the fastening which will be easiest for your child to open and close – for example lunchboxes can have plastic clips, buckles, zips etc
- Choose an eye-catching bright colour or design for their lunchbox and ensure you add a marker they recognise, to help them identify their lunchbox from many similar ones on the school storage trolley – for example a keyring on the handle
- An insulated lunchbox with a lining will help to keep the contents cool in summer but you could add a mini icepack to keep their lunch fresh, so select a lunchbox which has room for this
- It’s also important to consider how easy the lunchbox will be to clean, as your child may not notice if they have spilled their yogurt or juice – for example, lunchboxes with separate compartments may be more fiddly to keep clean
- However, choosing a lunchbox with ready made different compartments can make it easier for them to find sweet or savoury food items. As an alternative, put in your own small pots of separate food items
- Look for lunchboxes which have a wide enough opening for your child to easily search for food items with room for wipes or a napkin, so your child can keep their fingers clean. Room for a water bottle is useful although the school will provide water at the table
- If your child uses their fingers (rather than their vision) to find what is in their lunchbox, it will be helpful to choose a lunchbox that opens out wide and flat
- You may sometimes wish to provide a child’s thermos so that they can enjoy healthy soup at lunchtime. A thermos is also useful to keep drinks cool in the summer
Organising your child’s lunchbox
There are plenty of things you can do to organise the contents of your child’s lunchbox to make it easier for them to find things, as well as ensuring the food is appealing to them in a visual or tactile way:
- You may want to use smaller food storage boxes to separate different foodstuffs. This is useful because they are reusable. Use the same shape and size pot each time so your child can predict the contents - e.g. fruit is in the round pot with a raised rim
- You could mark different pots with something that’s easy for your child to feel, for example a raised sticker on top of the pudding pot
- If your child finds opening bags difficult, you could buy a family sized bag of crisps and decant a portion into a smaller bag or pot
- Wrapping sandwiches in foil rather than clingfilm makes them easier to open (clingfilm can be tricky if they can’t easily see the join)
Involve your child in lunch preparation
Your child will enjoy their lunch more if their packed lunch is fun and has visual or tactile appeal. In order to get them interested in the contents of their lunch, you could:
- Arrange a weekly shop with your child for their lunchbox contents and involve them in compiling a shopping list and by offering a choice of two items – for example, would they prefer an apple or a pear?
- Have a picnic at home. This can be inside on rainy days or outside in the garden or a nearby park on sunny days. This will help them to feel comfortable and safe eating in different environments, and also provides practice using containers and their lunchbox
- Ask them to help you make a sandwich. They can practice fine motor skills by spreading butter and cutting the sandwich with a knife. They will learn how much filling to add and how much foil is needed to wrap round the sandwich
- Serve finger food at home to increase their tolerance for touching different types of food
- Letting your child help with cooking and touching various different ingredients will help develop their tolerance of touching different textures – make sure you provide a kitchen towel or wipes to clean their hands
- Bake together at home – for example make mini muffins or cheese scones for them to pack in their lunch box. One of the best things about baking and cooking at home is that you can incorporate healthy ingredients such as vegetables – e.g. carrot or courgette grated into the muffin mixture
Make your child’s lunchbox fun and appealing
The NHS advises that a balanced lunchbox should contain:
- A starchy food (such as bread, rice, potatoes or pasta)
- A protein item (such as meat, fish or beans)
- A dairy item (such as cheese or yogurt)
- Vegetables or salad
- A portion of fruit
To ensure your child’s lunch is appealing and fun, you could try:
- Foods with different textures, for example squashy mango or crunchy lettuce
- Adding a variety of different things to their sandwich to vary the texture, for example a few vegetable crisps added to a cheese sandwich. However, some children will prefer knowing what is in their sandwich and may enjoy best the predictable texture of just one filling. Let your child’s preferences guide you
- Cut sandwiches in different, fun shapes using biscuit cutters or rolled and sliced like a Swiss roll
- Use bagels, wraps and small rolls or crackers instead of an ordinary sandwich
- Include couscous or rice salads containing a changing variety of added meat or veg
- Provide cheese in a variety of ways, for example cheese strings, grated, cubes or slices
- Cut vegetables with zig zag cutters to create interesting shapes and textures
- Make a mini fruit salad to combine different flavours and shapes of fruit.
- For children who can see colour, consider the colour of food in their lunchbox – it’s far more tempting to try a range of brightly coloured foods. For example, supermarkets now sell wraps coloured with beetroot or spinach which also adds to the vegetable content of their lunch
You may find your child prefers eating their food separately (rather than having it in a sandwich, for example) because they can more easily recognise distinct food tastes. If this is the case you may wish to provide crackers/bread and contents in different containers.
If you’re looking for some lunchbox inspiration, the NHS and Change4Life provide plenty of lunchbox tips and ideas to help you create exciting and healthy packed lunches for your child.
Orchard Toys’ ‘Lunch Box Game’ is a fun opportunity for all the family to learn about healthy items to include in lunch boxes. It contains easy to see clear, simple, bold outlined pieces.
Published: August 2018