Making packed lunches is one of those daily tasks that we all wish we could skip. Filling sandwiches and chopping fruit can be thoroughly tedious, and often, the resulting lunch is pretty boring for your child to eat, too.
We've rounded up 18 of the best lunchbox hacks that'll save you time in the mornings, cut your weekly shopping bill and make your child smile at lunchtime.
1. Elastic band applesChildren sometimes struggle to get their teeth into a whole apple, but if you chop it up, the likelihood is it’ll be brown by lunchtime. To keep it fresh, remove the core using a corer, slice the apple, then reassemble the slices around the core, holding it together with an elastic band. No more brown, soggy fruit slices.
2. Keep it coolIn warm weather, quarter-fill your child’s drink bottle with water and put it in the freezer overnight. The following morning, fill it up and put it in your child’s lunchbox: it’ll act as an ice pack to keep their sandwiches cool, and their drink will be all the more refreshing, too.
3. Hide the healthy bitsHome-baking is a great way to sneak vegetables into a child who balks at anything green. Veg such as carrot, courgette and beetroot can be finely grated and incorporated into cake, muffins and brownies, and your child will be none the wiser.
4. Create a dedicated fridge spaceUse a large plastic tub to keep lunchbox essentials like cheese portions and yoghurts in, so they’re all in one place when you need them. It also has the benefit of keeping your packed lunch supplies separate from the rest of the family food, so people don’t eat them by accident.
5. Keep standbys in the freezerWe’ve all had those moments where we reach for the loaf of bread and realise someone has taken the last slices – or that it’s grown blue fur. Keep a standby packet of wraps in the freezer for those ‘help, no bread!’ days: they hardly take up any room, and you can easily prise one or two off the stack and defrost them in the microwave for 20 seconds.
6. Make extra at dinnertimeWhen you’re chopping vegetables for dinner, do a few extra and put them in a sandwich bag or container in the fridge, ready to go in your child’s lunchbox in the morning.
7. Send a spare bagThis one involves training your child, but will save you a mucky job every evening. Pack a spare sandwich bag and ask them to put all their rubbish in it: no more wiping soggy fruit peel or sour yoghurt out of the corners of their lunchbox.
8. Save your leftoversGive yourself a break from the chore of morning sandwich making by saving dinner leftovers for your child’s lunch. Leftover pasta or rice, slices of pizza or quiche and even jacket potato halves make a good alternative to sandwiches and can be eaten cold the next day.
9. Buy dishwasher-safe containers…Reusable containers are more eco-friendly than using cling film or foil, and save money in the long run, too – but make sure you buy dishwasher-safe tubs and bottles so you don’t have to wash them by hand every evening.
10. …and make sure they’re all the sameBuying identical food boxes and drink bottles means that when your child inevitably loses a lid, you’ll have spares on hand in the cupboard.
11. Get your kids to helpOkay, so we know there’s enough to nag your child about in the morning as it is, but there’s no reason why they can’t add helping with lunchboxes to their daily routine. Keep a separate tin of packed lunch staples like cereal bars, crackers, breadsticks and so on in the cupboard, and get them to choose a couple (or however many you allow) each morning and put them in their lunchbox. When they’re a bit older, you can teach them how to make their own sandwiches, too.
12. Use silicone cake casesSilicone cake cases are brilliant for keeping small portions of food such as cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes or grapes separate from the rest of the food inside your child’s lunchbox.
13. Make a cheap-as-chips ice packSoak washing-up sponges in water, put them in individual zip-lock bags, and keep them in the freezer for a constant supply of lunchbox-sized homemade ice packs that are far cheaper to replace when they inevitably get lost.
14. Keep bananas freshIf you buy enough bananas for the week but find they’ve gone brown by Wednesday, simply remove them from the bunch and wrap each stem in a little piece of tinfoil. This slows down the ripening process so they stay firm and fresh for longer.
15. Send disposable cutleryBuy a big pack of plastic knives, forks and spoons to pack in your child’s lunchbox on days when they need cutlery: you can guarantee that if you send a proper teaspoon for their yoghurt, you’ll never see it again.
16. Nice to nibbleWe don’t know why, but kids seem to eat far better if their food is bite-size. To boost the chances of an empty lunchbox coming home, cut sandwiches into tiny triangles (a pizza cutter is great for this), slice wraps into inch-thick pinwheels, or give them fingers of pitta to dip into hummous or cream cheese. For bonus parent points, you can use cookie cutters to cut their sandwiches into fun shapes.
17. Go half-and-halfHere’s a 1980s trend that we think should be revived: two-tone sandwiches made with one slice of white bread, and one of brown. It’s a great way to sneak some extra fibre into your child’s diet and make their sarnies look more interesting, too.
18. Send a message on a ‘nanaUse a toothpick to scratch a message or a silly face into the skin of your child’s banana before packing it in their lunchbox. They may pretend to be mortified, but we bet they’ll love it really!