Karen Martini

Lunchbox inspiration

Like breakfast, lunch can sometimes suffer from our busy schedules, but it is such an important meal – a critical refuel to get through the rest of the day. It’s so vital that we send our children off for the day with a lunch made up of a good mix of healthy foods: fresh fruit and vegetables, grains, some protein and dairy. And it’s just as important that we eat this way too – don’t think twice about packing a couple of extra lunches for the adults of the house as well.

Getting the mix right for your kids’ lunchboxes is not just about what you want them to eat. It’s one thing to get the nutritional balance right, but that means nothing unless they actually eat everything. So it’s important to make those lunches delicious, too. And that doesn’t have to mean going to a lot of trouble. A simple sandwich or wrap often does the trick.

Some good quality bread with ham, salad and a slice of cheese is a pretty balanced and delicious lunch, just add a piece of fruit and perhaps a tub of yoghurt and you’re good to go. I like to rotate different wraps in my girls’ lunchboxes to keep them from getting bored, such as hummus with fetta and salad, avocado with grated cheddar and sesame, or maybe cream cheese, cucumber and shredded spinach and mint. The combinations really are endless.

‘Real’ milkshakes with plenty of fruit are great to take to work or school, and you can just keep them cool in a thermos. Sometimes I might whizz milk up with banana, honey and even a little tahini, or some frozen berries with natural yoghurt. And if superfoods are your thing, you can add a spoon of superfood powder – and a little vanilla powder will stop the kids turning their noses up! 

When the weather turns icy that thermos can just as easily be filled with soup, such as a homemade creamy tomato with smoky bacon, or a spiced, silky pumpkin puree with a big dollop of yoghurt stirred through it. 

Sometimes I’ll get prepared for the week’s lunches on the weekend or in my spare time (ha!). That might mean whipping up a batch of roast vegetable pasties with cheddar, or some little savoury pastries with feta, spinach and sausage, or fresh ricotta and silverbeet. This may sound like a lot of work, but it’s really quite simple and makes putting together a lunchbox so easy during the week – you can also make a big batch and freeze them to bake later. 

Savoury muffins are also a great lunchbox idea. My girls love them with cheddar, corn and onion – I sneak some green chilli on top of a few, too, which is how I like them – and they’re also great for an after-school snack. 

A wedge of frittata in a lunchbox with a wrap and some fruit is another nutrition-packed lunch option. I’ll usually make frittata and include whatever cheese my girls particularly like at the time and then sneak in some baby spinach or peas as well to make it deliciously balanced.

Leftovers can also make tasty and healthy lunches with little fuss. Last night’s roast chook is always great for the lunchbox. Make up some sandwiches with chopped chicken tossed with some sliced celery, shredded lettuce and mayo spiked with a good spoon of sour cream or crème fraîche. Or toss together a quick salad with sweet corn kernels, chopped cos and cucumber and a good dollop of lemony yoghurt.

But remember, you don’t have to go to a lot of trouble to pack a nutritious lunchbox. Keep it simple, fresh and balanced. A little spread of raw vegetables with a wedge of cheese or some balls of bocconcini, a hard-boiled egg, a tin of tuna and a chunk of bread makes for a pretty delicious and nutritious lunch. 

And a great way to get the kids to eat all those vegetables is to make up a little tzatziki, which is so simple, just grate some cucumber and squeeze out the liquid, then mix with some Greek yoghurt, a little lemon juice and extra-virgin olive, some seasoning and mint (if they’ll let you). Not only do they get all the goodness of the dairy, but by using sticks of carrot, celery, fennel and the like for dipping, they’ll eat plenty of vegetables while barely realising it.   

With a little imagination and minimal planning, making up tasty and nutritious lunchboxes can be really easy. And remember, lunchboxes aren’t just for the kids. Packing lunch for the whole family is the best way of ensuring that you’re all eating fresh, healthy and balanced meals.

Karen Martini has joined the Dairy Australia family as a Legendairy ambassador. Head to The Dairy Kitchen to try some of her delicious recipes yourself!