The kids have been home for the better part of this school year due to Covid protocols where we live. Hopefully, face to face classes will resume in January and I for one cannot wait.
It has been great having the kids learn from home, but it is not easy. From longer screen time, not being able to physically interact with their teachers and schoolmates, a larger school work load…online learning is taking a toll on everyone involved.
The kids have always carried snacks and lunch from home. This has worked well for us so far- in terms of cost, being able to know what they are consuming and it doesn’t take as much time as one might expect.
Planning ahead is the greatest tip I have for this. As a Mum, my prime concern is for them to have healthy and tasty food, but I also need to take into consideration what is easier for them to consume in school; what is not time or labour intensive for me, we and will go well with the main family meal plan.
When my eldest child started carrying food from home, I worried she might not like what I have packed, so I decided to include her in the planning process. This has been working well for us so far.
Here are some tips in no order of importance:-
- Focus on healthy, colourful, tasty food, that is easy to pack and keep. We do many cold meals, though the kids can warm from school, but cold lunches are great in this Kampala weather, they are quick to eat and clean up. No soup spills and the like.
- Have a variety of meal options. I usually have 10-15 main meal ideas the kids like and approve, so I plan their meal choices around those options.
- Include the children in planning for their meals. What would they like to carry? You can make a plan with them (keeping in mind the main family meal plan), so you are sure of less food wastage, they will eat what they chose and like, and you have less labour in shopping and prepping.
- Make what you can ahead, if you can peel and chop or boil earlier it becomes easier to assemble in the morning.
- Involve the children in packing the snacks and lunches too. My kids have become so good at this, I am really proud of them. Since they know what is on their menu, it is easy for them to pack what they are carrying for the day. For example, Fridays is a day for fries and a kachumbari salad for lunch. The kids are quite firm on this, but flexible enough on me to make plantain, green banana or even sweet potato fries, instead of the normal Irish potato ones.
- Partitioned lunch boxes are a great option. One is able to separate the fruits and veggies, or main meal and salad. And I am also able to portion according to how much I know each kid is able to eat.
In terms of cost and nutrition. Fruits are a necessary snack. For this, I always put what they like and a fruit that is in season at the moment. For example, there are plenty of mangoes available at the moment, so their price is lower than other fruits not easily available at the moment.
Uganda’s great weather ensures we have plenty of sweet fruits available year round, so homemade juices are a great option too with the passion fruits and oranges that are easily available.
Basics for me in their bags are a bottle of drinking water, a small bottle of juice or flavoured milk, fruits and a healthy meal and snack. For example, a snack box for break will include a small sweet banana, popcorn, a muffin and some nuts. Popcorn is easy to make from home and doesn’t take too much time. Lunch can be rice balls, a simple salad and the fruit option can be grapes (sliced vertically), pineapple slices, or apple slices with some peanut butter on them.
Do not forget to pack some serviettes (paper towels) and cutlery for them. IKEA and many supermarkets have hardy plastic or melamine ones so you can keep your silverware safe. LOL.
Family main meal leftovers are also great for their lunchboxes. Leftover pasta makes a great pasta salad with some added veggies, tuna and mayo or yoghurt dressing.
Leftover steamed rice is great for rice balls, or fried rice which can be had warm or cold. Having canned tuna, chickpeas, sweetcorn and quinoa in the pantry is great to add to salads and sandwiches.
Pancakes can be spread with jam, Nutella or peanut butter to make them more interesting and sweeter for the kids. Leftover veggies are great for savoury muffins, sweetcorn, zucchini and cheese make great options for this.
Other food options we like are :-
- Salads- potato salad, pasta or quinoa salads are great with added cold meats such as tuna or leftover chicken. Veggies to bulk them can include chickpeas, sweetcorn, carrots, cucumber, red cabbage, beetroot, or even roasted zucchini and eggplant.
- Fries or potato wedges. These could be sweet potato fries, green banana cutlets, plantain or yam fries.
- Beef kebabs with a yoghurt sauce.
- Orzo pasta is a fave here and can be used to bulk up a lentil salad.
- Amaranth cereal bars
- Sausage rolls.
- Pancakes both sweet and savoury. Sweet ones can be spread with their favourite spread and sweetened with fruit. Savoury crepes work well with a veggie and cheese filling.
- Leftover pizza.
- Leftover chapati can make wraps of quesadillas, even frittatas.
- Rice can be a salad, or fried rice. the kids also love beetroot pilau and celery rice which they can warm at school if they want to.
- Carrots, cucumbers, celery stalks are great as a side salad with a small yoghurt sauce.
- Quickbreads and muffins; banana bread, chocolate muffins, cheese and herb rolls are great options too.
Using what you have on hand and that which is easily available makes your work so much easier as a Mom.
Other tips to help the school mornings and school runs easier are:-
- Having a good sleep routine. It is important for both you and the children to have a good night’s rest. Especially the kids who are still growing and need to let their minds and bodies rest and replenish lost energy. Having set times for bed and waking up is great for this.
- Be prepared. Be stocked up on essentials to make mornings move faster. If you have to stop at the store on your way to drop them, chances are your kids will be late for school.
- Have a morning routine for the family. Not a strict military style one, but a basic one that you and your family members have discussed and agreed upon. Simple ones like making beds immediately they get up, breakfast then shower and brush their teeth, oil themselves and dressed up work. This is how we teach our children independence, decision making and basic life skills.
- Pack ahead for co- curricular activities. Sports and swimming gear can be packed the night ahead. Imagine looking for a swimming costume in the morning when they need to be out the door? it leaves everyone frazzled and not a good way to start the day.
- An evening routine is great too. Once they get home from school, what is the first thing they do? When I pick them I always ask them to check if they have all their stuff with them. Once home, it is shower, a bit of play and tea time, homework then they can play some more before dinner is ready. Do not let them get way with dumping their shoes and bags at the door. I am firm on this. As messes such as these will end up with someone tripping on them and getting hurt, and also not teaching them how to be responsible for their things.
- Check their schoolwork and let them also pack the books and stationery supplies before they go to bed once they are done with their homework; less chance of forgetting their homework at home or diaries.
- Always keep the kids involved. Listen to them, talk to them, discuss with them what is going on in their school life. It makes them feel heard and seen and improves their self esteem.
As a parent, I am the adult and should lead by example. The kids being late is not their fault, it is mine if I did not take the time to ensure they are well prepared for the day ahead.
Let me also add that there is no perfect parent. We are all trying to do the best we can.
I will not lie and say I have all this down pat. No! I am still learning and I do drop the ball from time to time. However I cannot emphasize enough how much being organised has saved me time, money, energy.
Sure it’s easy for me to say do this and you will all be a calm, happy family. But as any parent will tell you, there are no guarantees. We can make the effort nevertheless. Nobody likes yelling or being yelled at in the morning to “hurry up!” And being more organized will reduce those frazzled mornings, don’t you think?
What do you pack in your child’s lunchbox?