Ever struggled to piece together a healthy school lunch? Without any of the added nasties? Soulla Chamberlain is here to help. You may remember Soulla from our first ever Day on a Plate segment – in the meantime she’s been busy creating delicious new recipes in her Broth Bar, developing products for Star Anise Wholefoods and creating a whole lot of inspiring meals shared on her Instagram. We are so lucky to be featuring her on the blog today, read on to find her tips on how to create the most holistic nutritious and delicious lunch for kiddies!
Are you faced with the seemingly Groundhog Day decision of what to pack your kids for school lunches? Is it possible to prepare a nutrient-dense, delicious school lunch box that’s completely free of packaging, refined sugar, gluten, seed oils and other processed ingredients in 2-5 minutes flat each morning? You bet mama! I’ve been doing it for 6 years, I teach people how to do it in my regular school lunchbox workshops, I have written an eBook on it, I regularly blog about it and I post a daily photo on social media of what my 2 chipmunks are taking to school with them that day.
Nothing is more important to me than raising vibrantly healthy, happy and robust children. Inspiring others to join me on this journey is my mission. This all came about when I was asked by a fellow school mum several years ago “If you don’t feed your kids processed foods and you’ve stripped back grains, then what on earth do you put in their lunch boxes?”
This question struck me like a lightening bolt. Um, just real food. Thanks to 50 years of mainstream dietetics and slick clever marketing by food giants it appears that refined grains, processed and packaged foods, juices, milk-like drinks and sugar-hidden snacks are so ubiquitous that they comprehensively encapsulate what we now think of as food and ergo what goes into our kids’ lunchboxes. As a society, we have completely lost touch with real food: nutrient-dense whole unprocessed foods, ethically sourced and traditionally prepared, being the very food that served and nourished us for millennia. But somewhere along the line we took a detour. The result is an explosion in chronic childhood illnesses, allergies and degenerative diseases, never seen before in our pre-industrialised ancestors.
While numerous lifestyle factors profoundly impact our childrens’ health, the most powerful and easiest place to start is with nutritious homemade food. When children are given the very food that they are biologically designed to eat, they can grow and function properly, perform their best, and reach their true potential! At the end of the day, that’s what all parents want for their children. Children (just like adults) find it harder to be happy when they are not healthy. Without good health, life is a struggle.
Ok, so what constitutes a healthy school lunchbox?
In keeping with my nutritional philosophy, I believe it is important that school lunches be:
- Free of all processed foods especially refined sugar, industrialised seed oils and gluten, and should almost always be grain-free (this is because these foods are
relative newcomers to the human diet and we do not respond well to them especially in large amounts).
- Filled with nutrient-dense ingredients (no empty fillers!) that are properly sourced and prepared.
- Super simple, quick and easy to make. We are all pressed for time in the morning!
- Delicious! Nutrient-dense food is already full of real flavour (because nutrients are precisely what gives food its flavour!)
So putting this into practice…
Step 1: Ditch all processed food!
If it comes in a bag or a box, don’t buy it in the first place…. or scrutinise the ingredients to ensure that they don’t contain sugar, gluten, industrial seed oils or other artificial ingredients. The old saying is that “If something needs to be advertised it’s probably not real food”. From an environmental point of view, eschewing all packaged foods means zero waste (and more money in your pocket)! Make your house the high water mark when it comes to nutrition. Don’t buy things that you don’t want your children to consume. There are enough opportunities to ‘fall off the band wagon’ outside the house.
Step 2: Base your childrens’ lunchboxes on real, fresh, nutritious, whole foods:
- Meat (with its fat) from pastured or wild animals
- Organ meats (eg chicken liver pate, black pudding sausages) from pastured or wild animals
- Bone broths and broth-based soups from pastured or wild animals
- Wild (not farmed) seafood
- Eggs from pastured poultry
- Full-fat dairy from pastured animals (eg yogurt, cheese, cream, whole unsweetened milk) note- coconut yogurt is a great dairy-free yogurt alternative
- Chemical-free fresh seasonal vegetables and small amounts of seasonal fruit
- Lacto-fermented foods (eg kefir, cultured vegetables)
- Small amounts of nuts and seeds properly prepared (“activated”) if permitted at schools (if nuts aren’t permitted, seeds typically are)
- Unrefined salt, herbs & spices
- Natural fats like butter, ghee, coconut oil, olive oil
These foundational foods will give our children the vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fats that they need to play, learn, concentrate and build strong natural immunity. In addition, a well-balanced lunch box of carbohydrates, protein and fats will enable our children to get through the day with stable moods and happy dispositions feeling satiated and full, with no dips in energy.
My basic go-to formula for morning tea is:
Fruit teamed with a quality fat/protein source eg cheese, yogurt, cream, preservative-free cured meats (my favourite brand of cured meats is Bundarra Birkshires).
My basic go-to formula for lunch is:
Vegetables (either as crudités or as a salad) teamed with a quality fat/protein source eg left over meat, prosciutto, biltong, ham, cheese. If I’m using the compartmentalized lunch boxes divided into quarters then ¾ are taken up with vegetables and ¼ is the fat/protein source. Sometimes lunch is a thermos filled with a hot broth-based soup or left over meat and veg casserole (especially on chilly days).
The above takes the whole of 2-5 minutes to throw together. Seriously, I get my clients to time me during my lunch box workshops.
See my Nutrient-Dense Wholefoods Lunch Box suggestions at the end for loads of more specific ideas on what to pack for morning tea and lunch.
Step 3: Be prepared! From the day/night before have a think about what they will take for lunch the following day to give yourself time to buy anything required.
- Make extra for dinner to incorporate into the following days’ lunch:
- If cooking steak for dinner, cook an extra piece, slice it and pop into the fridge ready for lunch the following day. You can quickly convert it into a simple Asian style steak by dressing it the following morning with a drizzle of tamari (wheat-free soy sauce) and a scattering of sesame seeds.
- Make a few more roasted or steamed veggies (eg potatoes, sweet potatoes pumpkin, brocolli) at dinner time to pop into lunch boxes the following day.
- Make extra salad and pop it into a lunch box container to dress the following morning (or take dressing in a small container to add just before eating).
- Make a huge casserole or soup to have enough for the next days’ lunch.
- Make a frittata or crustless Spanakopita (Greek spinach pie), one Sunday every few weeks. These can also be frozen in between baking sheets to defrost the night before.
- Make extra buckwheat pancakes on a lazy Sunday morning to take to school/work for morning tea the following day.
At a minimum ensure that you have the following items in your fridge/pantry daily so you don’t get caught out:
- Fresh or frozen fruit, or spices such as cinnamon, raw cacao powder, vanilla bean powder (this is a convenient carbohydrate source for morning tea).
- Full fat yogurt (this is a convenient protein/fat source for morning tea). Yogurt in large tubs has a relatively long refrigerated shelf life.
- A few basic fresh vegetables (eg cherry tomatoes, carrots, capsicum, cucumber, snow peas etc) (this is a convenient carbohydrate source for lunch).
- Full fat cheese or pastured fresh or cured meats or wild tinned seafood in brine or olive oil (e.g. mackerel, anchovies) or pastured eggs (this is a convenient protein/fat source for lunch). Cheese has a very long refrigerated shelf life. Buy different varieties each week. Eg gruyere, reggio, cheddar, camembert, gouda, brie, haloumi, mozzarella.
If you can prepare it the night before then do so! E.g. spoon yogurt into a thermos container and dust with raw cacao powder, cinnamon powder and vanilla bean powder. You can quickly add fresh fruit to it in the following morning. I prefer to cut fruit and veggies fresh rather than the day before.
Equipment To Have On Hand
- Thermos containers (to keep food warm or cold)
- Lunch bags with built in icepack or ice bricks (to keep food cold)
- Stainless steel lunch boxes (with and without dividers)
- Stainless steel water bottles
Read one of my blogs here to find out where to purchase these.
Nutrient-Dense Wholefood Lunchbox Suggestions
- Morning Tea:
- Fresh fruit teamed with full fat cheese (eg watermelon and haloumi salad)
- Unsweetened natural yogurt (eg Meredith Sheeps milk yogurt or Bondi Yogurt dairy-free coconut yogurt) either plain or dusted with cinnamon, vanilla and/or raw cacao powders
- Unsweetened natural yogurt mixed with chopped fresh fruit eg berries
- Unsweetened natural yogurt mixed with activated cinnamon buckwheat
- Crème fraiche or cream mixed with chopped fresh fruit
- Full fat cheese sticks wrapped in a nori sheet
- Grated carrot, cinnamon, current & desiccated coconut salad drizzled with coconut oil and lemon juice
- Contents of a small tin of wild fish (eg wild salmon, tuna or mackerel) in brine (not vegetable oil)
- Semi-hard boiled eggs with homemade mayonnaise sprinkled with herbs/spices of choice (eg paprika, sea salt)
- Bottle of full fat milk either plain or flavoured with cinnamon, vanilla and/or raw cacao powders or fresh fruit (mixed with stick blender)
- Unsweetened pickled vegetables
- Left over home-made gluten-free pancakes (eg eggs & banana or with buckwheat flour or rice flour)
- Vegetable sticks with home-made dips eg mayonnaise, guacamole, tzatziki (Greek yogurt dip), pesto, pâté, tahini etc
- Trail mix of pumpkin seeds, coconut flakes and goji berries
- Home-made kale chips cooked in coconut oil seasoned with sea salt
- Slice of home-made banana, date and walnut loaf
- Thermos of broth-based soup
- If permitted: activated nuts either alone or mixed in yogurt or teamed with fruit (eg Wardolf salad) or grinded into a nut butter with vegetable sticks
- Vegetables (carbohydrate source) in one or more of the following forms:
- Raw crudités (eg cherry tomatoes, cucumber, capsicum, carrot, daikon, raw zucchini slices, fennel, snow peas, olives, cultured veggies etc.)
- Cooked (eg roasted or steamed root veggies such as potato, sweet potato, pumpkin)
- Tossed salad
Any one or more of the following quality animal protein/fat source eg:
- Full fat cheese (eg gruyere, parmigiano reggiano , cheddar, camembert, brie, gouda)
- Semi-hard boiled egg
- Pastured cured meats (eg ham, salami, biltong, pancetta, prosciutto or jamon)
- Pastured gluten-free sausages (pan-fried in the morning or leftover)
- Pastured bacon (pan-fried in the morning or leftover)
- Pastured left-over chicken pieces
- Pastured left-over beef/lamb (eg shredded or sliced)
- Wild (not farmed) fish eg wild smoked salmon (from TheCanadianWay.com.au) with squeeze of lemon juice and capers
- Meat balls/patties
- Chicken/Duck liver pâté
- Potato salad (with carrots, peas, ham/bacon and home-made mayonnaise)
- Crustless spanakopita (Greek spinach pie)
- Left-over home-made soup in wide-mouthed thermos container
- Left-over home-made meat and vegetable casserole in wide-mouthed thermos container
- Left-over home-made bolognaise sauce with steamed veggies and grated cheese in wide-mouthed thermos container
- Any left-over meat and vegetable dinner
- Home-made omelette or frittata with vegetables, eggs and cheese
- Home-made nori rolls with fillings such as avocado, cucumber, carrot, red capsicum, wild smoked salmon, wild tinned salmon, tuna
- Store-bought nori rolls (with wild not farmed fish)
- Slices of quality properly prepared bread (eg Spring Wholefoods gluten-free bread) as an accompaniment to any of the above or made into a sandwich (buttered with real butter not margarine or spreadable butters) with vegetable fillings plus an animal protein/fat source listed in 1 above or a nut butter (if permitted) plus sides of vegetables.
Kitchen Tip! Add a squeeze of lemon juice to cut apples, pears, avocado and smoked salmon to prevent them from oxidizing (going brown).
Stainless steel bottles filled with water (preferably filtered) with a pinch of unrefined salt. No juices, sports drinks, cordials or soft drinks. Apple juice is particularly damaging due to Sorbitol (a sugar-alcohol in apple juice), which is difficult to digest. Studies have linked failure to thrive in children with diets high in apple juice.