The Lunch Box Challenge

Every once in a while a new hobby or interest comes along that I would allow myself to get immersed into.

Two years ago it was baking; triggered by my desire to bake a birthday cake for the kids (which was no doubt triggered by the many instagram photos of crazily creative but somewhat unrealistic birthday cakes posted by other very talented mothers). I am now reminded of that each time I open the kitchen cabinet to find rows of baking trays and tools in different shapes and sizes, many of which have only been used once. There was also that time when I went a little overboard after receiving an email from daycare informing me of book week dress-up day – which resulted in me fretting for weeks trying to think up an appropriate costume that would resonate with my then two-year daughter without costing me a fortune in terms of money and also time. She ultimately ended up going as Grug, which no one recognised, and I still have leftover confetti paper of various colours in my store room.

Each time this happens I would spend hours every week trawling through Pinterest and magazines researching and gathering ideas, and then spend more hours trialling the ideas before ending up with the final output. Nevertheless I do like these little bursts of projects; they inspire the creative part of the brain which I believe is not used often enough and create distraction from an otherwise hectic lifestyle and at times stressful work environment. Life can’t always be about words, numbers, schedules, negotiations and managing people’s expectations right? What fun would that be?

So, what currently hogs up my time? There are two – firstly, planning the interiors of the house that we are building and secondly, planning what to put into Maya’s school lunch boxes. Both very challenging and equally fun (although driven by vastly different budgets). However this post will only be about the lunch box, the house can come at another time.

For those who have not done this before, do not underestimate how much thought and planning actually goes into that cute little compartmentalised bento box. I started thinking about it a couple of months even before she started school. Those dreadful news on how parents get chastised for packing chocolates into a lunch box. That school information evening where teachers specifically tell parents NOT to put junk food into your children’s lunch boxes. Those television programs that tell you that basically almost EVERYTHING you buy pre-packed from supermarkets these days are laden with sugar, salt and preservatives. And to top it off you have a fussy and slow little eater, you are limited to what you can pack in that lunch box without it getting rotten by midday or it getting all over your kid’s front shirt, and you must be conscious of all the other kids who might be potentially be allergic to nuts, eggs and etc etc. What else is there that you can pack?!

Well, a lot actually, as I eventually start to find. And it is extremely fun! I now love looking up new healthy recipes, making them and then forming them into shapes that she would willingly eat. Nothing feels better than checking her school bag at the end of the day and finding an empty lunch box.

Six weeks into the routine, and here are some things I learned about the process that makes it easier and more enjoyable:

  1. The box matters. Yes, having a good and cleverly-designed lunchbox helps. Think lids that can be easily opened by a four-year-old, think compartments that will separate your savoury from your sweet (and wet-tish from dry), think lids that are attached so that the kids will not lose them, think size that would fit nicely into a lunch bag or their school bag. There are so many cool options out there right now that makes shopping for them quite fun.
  2. It’s good to have varieties. Put different types of food into that lunch box – main meals (e.g. sandwich, pies, sushi etc), snacks, vegetables, fruits – whatever makes sense. This not only increase their nutritional intake, but it also makes it interesting for kids who may be fussy eaters. And in case there is something in there that they do not like, there is always something else that they can eat.
  3. For a working mom I try to stock up the pantry with essentials to avoid the mid-week night supermarket run. Rice, bread, wraps, puff pastry, carrots, cucumbers, cheese, ham and eggs are good staples to have throughout the week – you can make so many combinations out of these ingredients. Sliced cheese, rice crackers, seeds, dried apricots and any other type of dried fruit are also handy to have on hand to be added as snacks.
  4. Think up fun lunches that are easy to prepare and can be done the night before so that you don’t have to wake up an hour earlier in the mornings: Sushi, cucumber and cheese sandwiches, banana and peanut butter wraps, rice balls with fillings, mashed potatoes with peas, quiches, hot dog/sandwich. I usually make them mini sizes (e.g. half a seaweed slice for the sushi or sandwiches cut into 4 mini triangles or quiches made in muffin pans) because Maya finds them easier to eat and loves the idea that they are made just for her.

Have fun lunch-making, and please share your ideas!

Below:

Spinach balls recipe from Good Chef Bad Chef

Easy Date Slice recipe from Chef Not Required … recipes from a home cook website

Apricots – pre-packed from Coles

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