Below are some questions I asked Claire.
How do you keep the food fresh?
A common question I get asked is how to keep the food fresh for Dom’s lunches. The food once cooked (usually in the case of the meat this will be the night before) is cool on the bench for no more than 20 minutes and then placed as soon as possible in the fridge so that it cools down quickly. This is a bit of a balancing act between time cooling on bench (so its not too hot in fridge) and not leaving too long on bench (to allow growth bacteria).
The lunch boxes we use are stainless steel and regardless of whether or not I make the lunchbox up the night before or the morning I always try to put it in the fridge overnight so that it is cold to start with as the steel retains the cold for quite some time. (If haven’t made it up night before and I forgot to put in fridge then I put in freezer in morning before filling with Dom’s lunch.)
Typically I make up the lunchbox each evening using veggies prepared from Sunday and add the meat I’ve cooked that evening as well as some fruit and then put the lunchbox in fridge. In morning we take it out of fridge just before we leave and put into the carry bag along with an icepack. In our situation the time from being out of the fridge to being eaten at lunch is not ever more than 4 hours and usually only 3 hours.
Sometimes in the summer if I have given Dom chicken I might ask for his lunch box to go in the fridge but this is rare. I find that the combination of the icepack and the chilled lunchbox keeps the food cool (in New Zealand’s moderate climate) for the time we need.
The works well for us and has done for the past year or so. However, you will all be in different situations (climate wise as well as how long the time is from leaving home to eating) so you will need to work out what works for you and what you’re comfortable with.
Does the food fill kids up?
Most definitely yes! The foods in these lunch boxes are generally speaking Paleo inspired and tend to follow a LCHF way of eating (meaning Lower Carb and higher Healthy Fat). They’re very nutrient dense and filling being comprised 2-3 serves of vegetables, 1-2 serves of fruit, a serve of protein and a “treat” being olives or dried banana or a bliss ball made mostly with nuts and/or seeds and coconut oil. The lunch boxes cover Dom for morning tea and lunch. (He has more food separately for afternoon tea).
Most days Dom will finish most or all of his lunchbox. Some days he doesn’t eat much. It never really bothers me either way other than to ask him how he found it so I know if there is something he wasn’t liking. Depending on the food I am usually able to use leftover for dinner by reheating hot completely through.
Lunch box food vs same food on a plate
Does it take a long time to prepare?
Well yes and no. Daily I spend about 5 minutes in the morning putting the lunch box together. However, that’s only possible because I’ve prepared beforehand. After over a year of preparing a real food lunch box I’ve got my preparation and assembly pretty streamlined! Like everyone else, I’m a busy Mum! I work a corporate job as well as looking after my son and running a blog. So I definitely appreciate the need to get the most out of out each day!
So what’s my total time investment? Well I generally do a morning shop at the markets or supermarket on Sunday and then around 2-4 hours preparing food on the Sunday afternoon/evening. If I’m working quickly by myself and not doing any baking it’s closer to the 2 hour and certainly can be 1 hour if I need it to be. I usually always have one weeks worth of foods made up in the freezer so if something happens and I can’t do preparation on the Sunday we’re still OK.* If Dom is “helping” me and/or we’re baking then it would be more like 3-4 hours. I store the food in air tight glass containers in the fridge. This means a lot of the food is prepared for the week ahead by Sunday so that on weekday nights meal prep takes 15-30 minutes max.
* This is generally what happens. Of course there are always those days or weeks when things don’t go to plan and that is when it will get stressful. There is always something I can find but for sure if you cannot do the earlier prep or miss it and haven’t got stuff in the freezer or fridge then it will become hard to make the lunch box! So there are times when I’ll use packaged food but it will still be real food just processed to an extent – like kale chips in packet or store bought coconut wraps.
There’s no denying that eating real food requires an investment of your time but my thoughts are that it is well worth it as you will reap the benefits back many times over for what you can put in.
Is it expensive?
I looked into this and compared the cost of a typical lunch box with pre-packed processed foods and a piece of fruit to a whole food lunch box, and the cost comes out similar. The lunches I packs are slightly more expensive due to a generous serving of organic/free range protein items, but even so are still comparable to an average school lunch box. I will do follow up post focusing on just this aspect of costs and we’ll have that up on the blog soon.
Below are a selection of bento-style Lunchboxes prepared by Claire and her 4 year old son Dom. If you’re interested in learning more about breaking this all down and making it achievable, head over to Dom’s Kitchen for tips and inspiration.
1. The Cheese Please Lunchbox:
- Egg Sushi Rolls
- Oven Baked Broccoli with Coconut Oil
- Blue Cheese & Cherry Tomato Kebabs
- Pan Fried Haloumi & Roasted Red Capsicum
- Green Olives
2. The Summertime Lunchbox
- Sliced Watermelon
- Oven Bake Herb Fish on Lettuce
- Hard Boiled Egg
- Banana Bread
3. The “Nice Block” Lunchbox:
4. The Meat Ball Lunchbox:
5. The Sweet Treat Lunchbox:
6. The Roast Veggies Lunchbox:
- Pear Slices
- Lamb on the Bone
- Easy Roast Pumpkin & Sweet Potatoes
7. The Sausages & Cauliflower Popcorn Lunchbox:
- Red & Yellow Capsicums
- Buttered Broccoli (steamed in butter)
- Gluten Free Chicken Sausages
- Cauliflower Popcorn
8. The Fish Lunchbox:
- Kiwifruit Halves
- Egg Wraps
- Easy Herb Crusted Fish
- Cherry Tomatoes & Avocados
9. The Sausage & Fries Lunchbox:
- Sweet Potato Chunky Fries
- Red Capsicums
- Gluten Free (filler free) Sausages
- Blue Cheese & Tomato Kebabs
- Baked Broccoli