Long before the meal prep trend, where you slice and dice your Sunday away, there were simple lunchboxes.
Much more than just a white bread sandwich and a piece of fruit, a well-considered lunchbox can push beyond the perfunctory and into something quite desirable.
You can also capitalise on making a lunchbox for a schoolbag by making one for the adults in the house to take to the office (or home office) too. When you get the decisions sorted early in the day, it removes the temptation of multiple trips back to the kitchen when you’re working or learning from home.
Using the same fridge and pantry staples, I’ve made a child’s lunchbox and an office-friendly version.
Finger foods in simple formats work best for busy school eating. Whether it’s for a preppy or a teenager, speed and ease are king. Segmented lunchboxes help a small child learn which foods to eat when, and keep everything tidy despite school bag jiggles. They’re also easily dismantled at the end of the day, and once put in the dishwasher or scrubbed in the sink, they ensure food safety.
Office lunch packs can take advantage of kitchenettes with microwaves, sandwich presses and kettles for MacGyver-style heating, where pasta can be warmed or a toastie remelted. Hearty pastas and soups are best packed in microwave-friendly containers and a cafe-style, napkin-lined paper bag can be torn open strategically to avoid desk spills and drips.
The school lunchbox
It all starts with the box itself. Small sections help cut down on disposable packaging, saving on costs, while being mindful of the environment. They also avoid tricky-to-open packaging.
Leftovers are perpetual sources of lunchbox goodies – a chicken drumstick and plain penne pasta make perfect finger foods. Wedges of cheese, veggie sticks, crackers and hummus create many ways for snacks to be mixed and matched into dip-able fun.
Keeping components separate in the fridge until packing gives the most flexibility when managing preferences, various days and perishability.
I always pack lunchboxes in the morning as they usually feature leftovers from the night prior, but prepack yours with crackers to be added or frozen treats to be included the next morning if you struggle for time post-breakfast.
The components: I work through various proteins, carbs and veggies when filling a lunchbox – this process helps to identify gaps on those days when you need that one extra thing to create a balanced diet.
Proteins and dairy: Chicken drumstick, hummus and cheddar wedges.
Carbs: Plain pasta and crackers for hummus and a mini-muffin.
Veggies and fruit: Raw carrot and cucumber sticks, cherry tomatoes, a seasonal piece of fruit.
The office lunch pack
This uses the same collection of foods as the school lunchbox, but presented in a way that’s more suited to an office where tactile finger foods aren’t quite acceptable. A small chiller bag with inter-stacked compartments for stashing in a communal fridge, or under your desk, can be pulled out individually throughout the day or laid out at once for a lunchtime spread.
Picking the meat from a chicken drumstick and adding to the pasta with dollop of pesto creates a forkable dish ready to be eaten cold or warmed.
Pre-toasting a cheese sandwich eases the mess in the office. It can also be eaten dipped in hummus without re-toasting.
Adult’s lunch pack:
Pea, chicken and pesto pasta salad, chilled or warmed
Pre-toasted cheddar cheese sandwich, ready re-toast with ease
Crudités and hummus to dip
Mini muffin and seasonal fruit
Morning tea muffins
Makes 6 large muffins or 12 mini-muffins
Prep 10 minutes
Cook 20-30 minutes
You can choose your own adventure with this recipe, by taking the muffin base and adding fruit, nuts or other favourites – whatever ingredients are on hand in your fridge or pantry.
I used a 250g punnet of strawberries and 50g of slivered almonds. Other favourite combinations include apple and blueberries, dried apricot and passionfruit, or diced pear and granola.
Bake the full batch and freeze excess for defrosting as needed, or freeze the uncooked batter already in muffin papers and defrost, then bake as needed.
185g plain flour
14g baking powder
2 free-range eggs
250g natural yoghurt
125g olive oil (or other vegetable oil)
300g of any combination of fruit, nuts, chocolate or berries
Preheat oven 160C
Combine the dry base ingredients, and in a seperate bowl, the wet ingredients.
Add half of the chosen fruit and nut combination to the wet ingredients and mix through. Add the dry ingredients and mix just enough to combine.
Using two spoons, portion into six large muffins or up to 12 mini muffins. Use muffin papers to help, or grease the mould with oil or butter.
Garnish the top of the muffins with the remaining fruit and nut mix.
Bake larger muffins for approximately 30 minutes, or around 20 minutes for smaller ones. When they are ready, the centre should be quite high. Test to see if they’re cooked through by inserting a skewer into a muffin – if it comes out clean, they’re ready.
Muffins can be frozen before or after cooking. Frozen pre-baked muffins will defrost inside a lunchbox by recess, so there’s no need to defrost. If you’re freezing before baking, make sure you defrost fully before putting the mixture in the oven, or they may be a little more dense.
If you’re not going to freeze them, you can store baked muffins in an airtight container once they’ve cooled off. They will keep for three days.