School lunches for young children can be seen as a headache or an opportunity. Schools have their own policies about snacks, but overall nuts are banned, at least when classes have a student with a nut allergy. We kept nuts out of today’s survey.
Having a variety of foods is key to children coming home from school with empty lunchboxes. If they return full, it doesn’t mean the contents won’t be eaten later in the day or the same selection in a week or month.
Ideally, they will have a sandwich for main break, cut up small, with nothing that can fall out or get mushy. Or you can mix it up, including carrot sticks with a tub of houmous. Fresh fruit is ideal, keeping apples small, dividing satsumas/oranges into segments, and using seedless grapes.
In our house, leftover pasta with pesto from the night before is popular. I buzz parsley, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and hard cheddar cheese, which coats penne pasta well and is eaten for the main break instead of a sandwich. Smoothies made at home and available in most supermarkets are best put into a cool flask so the milk doesn’t warm up.
Fruit in all forms, especially dried, have sugars which can cause dental caries, so encourage children to swish water in their mouths after swallowing. Sweet, fizzy drinks must be avoided. The aim is to keep up concentration by keeping hydrated with water. Developing good food habits in children takes energy and patience, but the results are worth the effort.
Five packs of three crackers have a short enough list of ingredients — flour, flavouring, yeast, and salt (0.2g per cracker is passable). The only downside is the use of palm oil, which has no mention of sustainable sources. One junior taster described these as pizza crackers and all of them loved them topped with thin slices of cheddar.
An attractively simple list of ingredients — flour, sunflower oil, yeast, barley malt extract, salt, this one just beat Dunnes (€1) on price. There is sunflower oil in Lidl’s and olive oil in Dunnes. Both are attractive sugar-free treat options and need nothing to go with them, though a cream cheese in a small reusable tub would be delicious.
Four packs of 16g of thin slices of dried pineapple commendably have nothing added. Tasters liked the flavour more than the texture, preferring the apple version’s texture. Watch out at farmers’ markets for local apple farms producing small batches.
Tasters also liked the All-Butter Flapjack mini bites (320g €4.80).
Four packs of five biscuits have 66% oats. Made in Scotland, from a transport viewpoint, they were favoured by environment-conscious parents more than other some popular brands, with unclear sources. These Nairn biscuits have 66% oats delivering a decent 7.5% protein and a relatively moderate 15.7% sugars from raspberry purée pieces, golden syrup, sugar, barley malt syrup, apple juice concentrate, apple powder. Whether these biscuits will be allowed in schools is worth checking out.
This is a good brand for young and older children who like the substantial bite of these bars. Six packs of 46.3% wholegrain oats, energy-boosting 32.2% raisins, carrot juice and apple juice concentrates are flavoured with cinnamon powder amounting to high but quite natural 26% sugars and a fair 6.8% protein. We also liked the Apple Rice Cake Clouds (72g €3.19).
These long strips of baked apples, pears, strawberries and carrot extract make for a simple list of ingredients. All tasters liked them. Fruit of any kind that is processed isn’t quite as good as freshly picked, but these will provide a short-lived energy boost (from 42% sugars) without the concern of added sweeteners or preservatives.
As a vegan option, with responsibly sourced palm oil in the margarine, these seem to be acceptable in some schools. Irish-made, they are always popular with children and are suitable for vegans. We also liked Kelkin Oat Cookies honey (150g €2.99) which are gluten-free and suitable for vegetarians.
These are good habit-forming snacks. Try them bare first, then topped with thinly sliced cheese or pastes of peas, broad beans, mashed canned baked beans buzzed with a tablespoon of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Mashed sardines are good too, as are hardboiled eggs with mayo and chives. Flavour with whatever your child fancies — tomato ketchup or chutney can make healthy options palatable to them. Try butter and mashed banana, or just butter.