Cheering up Your Children's Lunchboxes for Less

We are a few weeks into a new academic year now and hopefully children of all ages will be settling back into the school routine. For many young people, school can be an enjoyable but full-on experience and lunch-times and break-times are therefore valuable moments of relaxation throughout the day.

Not only are these breaks a chance to play and talk with friends and let off some steam, but there are also an opportunity to refuel and have a snack or meal to keep you going through the next set of lessons.

Kids packed lunch with note from mum

Although opting for a school dinner might suit some families for a variety of reasons, for others it might be more convenient for children to take a packed lunch in with them every day. This can be useful with younger children in order to keep an eye on what they are eating. However, whatever the age of your children it is easy to fall into a rut, especially when - as with most of us - you don't have the time or money to delicately prepare a range of new and interesting treats every day.

Here, then, are a few ways in which you can easily jazz up your children's lunchboxes without having to spend a fortune.

Cut sandwiches into funny shapes

Simple, but effective. You can buy special sandwich cutters specifically for this purpose, but you can also easily make shapes yourself. Just make sure the filling of the sandwich is appropriate if you are going to attempt something particularly tricky - grated cheese, for example, might not stay in small pieces sandwich as well as tuna mayonnaise!

Apples cut into smiley faces

Vary sandwich fillings

Whether or not you're planning to make them into fancy shapes, try and vary the filling of sandwiches if possible. Obviously you want to give your children something that they like and you know they will eat, but it might be possible to add variety by, say, using garlic mayonnaise instead of regular mayonnaise. There are some ideas here.

Maybe add some black pepper to an egg mayonnaise sandwich, some chutney to a cheese sandwich, or even make your own coronation chicken using this recipe.

If you can, give them something other than sandwiches each day. Wraps are also a good idea, or pitta breads, or rolls. You only need little changes to bring a smile to their faces at lunch-time and opening yourselves up to a wider range of bread products means you can take advantage of a potentially wider range of special offers when shopping - just buy whatever is cheapest that week.

Wait for sales to obtain their favourite branded lunchbox

Many children will be keen to buy a branded lunchbox in which to take their food to school, but these can be prohibitively expensive. Wait for the sales (they are often held before the start of each term and are certainly advertised everywhere prior to the start of a new school year) to buy them for your children as you can save as much as fifty per cent. Alternatively, buy a plain one and decorate it with stickers - this could work out as a much cheaper option.

Buy some snack pots

Not only do resuable containers have benefits for the enviroment, because they reduce the volume of waste, but they are also more robust and are therefore more likely to keep your children's food in good condition, as lunchboxes can get some quite rough treatment even from the most well behaved child. Paperchase and many of the larger supermarkets will stock these pots with fun pictures on them, or you could try eBay or Amazon as well.

Don't go for pre-prepared lunchbox treats

It is without doubt tempting to opt for pre-prepared treats, such as strings of cheese or packets of dried fruit. However, you will pay a premium for products such as these - for the packaging of them alone - and it can be so easy to prepare something similar yourself. It's often healthier to create your own snacks as well and they can be just as tasty. You could cut up some fresh fruit to make a colourful fruit salad, or buy dried fruit in bulk to save money and then put smaller quantities into a small snack pot each day. You could cut up some cubes of cheese, send in a yoghurt with a spoon, or make your own little fruit jellies for your children to take.

This advice also applies to drinks. Perhaps invest in a flask that goes with your child's lunchbox and then they can take their own drink every day as well?

Try and provide a balanced selection of food each day

Eating a balanced diet, without a heavy emphasis on sugary or salty foods, will give your children more energy, and this will definitely help them feel cheerful throughout the day! Obviously it's nice to have a little treat from time to time, but children will get the most out of school when they are well fed.

Let them know you're thinking of them

For some children, lunchtimes are really difficult. Finding a seat, dealing with the noise of a dinner hall, trying to eat relatively quickly during your class' 'sitting'. All of these things will become easier with time, but if your child doesn't enjoy lunch-time initially, you could leave them a little note or picture in their lunchbox each day to cheer them up and give them a boost for the afternoon.