Packed lunch Vs school dinners

When Sam started school last year I had no reservations getting him signed up for a hot meal at lunchtime. The menu seemed varied and he has such a huge appetite I thought it’d fuel him better than a packed lunch.

I grew up loving school dinners, and I guess my nostalgia influences my decision.

I’m afraid I also have to confess I really can’t be bothered haven’t got much enthusiasm to prepare a meal in a box every day – plus I’m not sure how cost effective it’d be. School dinners are only £2, and I think i’d be hard pressed to provide a tempting lunchbox for the same money day in, day out.

But now his best friend has a packed lunch and Sam wants to follow suit.

I’m considering trying it out once a week to see how it goes. And rather handily the folks at Innocent sent me a lunchbox full of their goodies this week, along with some funky stickers for Sam to customise it with.

The thought of a packed lunch clearly a winner for Sam

He took to this task with glee, and then wrongly assumed this meant he was getting a packed lunch. Hmmmm.

So the Innocent challenge was to show what I’d put in Sam’s lunchbox – it was the perfect chance to see what I’d come up with.

As Sam’s a vegetarian and not mad keen on sandwiches I thought I’d give him a portion of leftover quorn stir fry with noodles. It’s delicious cold and a really nutritionally balanced meal packed with protein and vegetables.

There’s a lot to be said for using leftover dinner as a packed lunch the next day. I do it quite a lot for Matthew instead of making sandwiches or him buying things. Saves money and prevents food waste.

I’ve also included an apple, along with some of Innocent’s fab smoothies to get the fruit portion count up.

Treat wise there’s a pot of custard and a little cake bar as Sam is definitely a pudding man and burns through calories at an alarming rate. Had I had time to do some baking this week I’d have included a home made muffin – like the banana ones I made before I went to France.

What do YOU put in your kids’ lunchboxes? I’d love to hear your ideas! I may well do a snapshot of Sam’s if I start to do them more regularly to try and share some inspiration.

Arlo didn't want to be left out of this challenge, and Sam very generously let his brother decorate the back of his lunchbox...

Thanks to Innocent for Sam’s lunchbox and smoothies!


About Katie Bryson

Katie Bryson is a freelance food writer and blogger. She left a career in online news at the BBC to immerse herself in the culinary world, taking in courses at Leiths School of Food and Wine and an internship at Waitrose along the way. Her family food blog is bursting with recipes and tips for feeding hungry families that’ll help inspire all those frazzled parents out there wondering what on earth to cook for tea!
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5 Responses to Packed lunch Vs school dinners

  1. ali.b. says:

    That looks a super packed lunch. My youngest was on school dinners but we stopped when I felt I was getting ripped off – long story – but basically near the end of terms the kitchen seems to start winding down no choices due to there not being enough food to feed all the kids on lunches – how can this be when they know how many kids they need to cater for – anyhoo – dont get me started!! Sorry… so packed lunches became the option but he hardly eats anything a dinosaur shaped sandwich and a biscuit – he doesnt eat his fruit, (which he then wants me to give 20p so he can buy an apple -wot!!), doesnt eat crisps, didnt eat his tub of sweetcorn he wanted, didnt touch his drink. This is day two and I dont know what to do!!

    • Katie Bryson says:

      That sounds like a pretty tricky situation. I’m convinced Sam will be the same – just leave everything and end up not having enough to eat. I guess it’ll be trial and error to see what gets eaten and what gets left.

      • ali.b. says:

        lol – will be back for inspiration (I need more confidence to know what I can and cant give the next day – mind you not that my hubby lets us have much left overs – he can eat!!)

  2. Jen says:

    What a timely debate….I’m a total novice when it comes to packed lunches as I was also a big fan of the cooked school lunch, but caved into the pressure of the 5 year old wanting a lovingly prepared little picnic everyday that she could eat alongside her little friends. I do have the advantage that Iona is nothing short of crazy about bread and cheese. I suppose my worry was how to get the fruit and veg into her. She already has a fruit snack in the morning, so I have devised the following formula for the lunch box which seems to be working well so far:

    – 2 mini brioche rolls or other soft rolls with either ham, tuna, cheddar or baby bel cheese (usually on the side as Iona doesn’t like sandwiches but does like bread served alongside protein)

    – a little tub of raw vegetables (I have so far tried various combinations of chopped up carrots, peppers, cucumber, tomatoes, olives and sometimes some feta too)

    – a yogurt tube or fromage frais (will also try custard – good idea)

    – a teddy bear cake biscuit in a special box

    – water (they are not allowed any kind of juice at the school)

    Amazingly the whole lot has been cleared every day so far, although I did make a deal with Iona that if she swapped from school meals to packed lunches she had to eat the healthy bits in order to get the ‘pudding’.

    It’s a lot of extra work, especially for a working mum who already struggles to prepare a balanced hot meal for the kids each night. But at least I know what Iona is and isn’t eating now, where I was always slightly dubious before that Iona was ditching the carbonnade de boeuf and demolishing the waffles and chocolate sauce (we live in Belgium!)

    • Katie Bryson says:

      Wow lucky Iona that sounds like a great packed lunch! Good idea to not make sandwiches but serve it up separately – think i’ll try that with Sam as he’s not wild about them either. Good idea also to get a bit of negotiating in there – if you don’t eat your healthy bits there’s no pudding and it’s back on school dinners!!!!

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