Thousands of children will return to school this week (Tuesday 19 July), and parents and care-givers will once again face the challenge of providing nutritious, affordable and quick-to-prepare school lunchboxes. 

While a hastily made sandwich and cold drink were once acceptable, the rules of the game have changed. Long school hours and lengthy commutes require more substantial meals, while the spiralling cost of living has made convenience shopping expensive. Food allergies and intolerances add another level of complexity. Factor in load shedding, with schedules that change rapidly, and you have all the ingredients for a family argument, late arrival at school, and/or wasted food.

To add to the challenge, in some school circles the standard of snacks has been elevated. Some parents opt to provide expensive, pre-packaged meals, create Instagram-worthy sandwiches, and carve fruit and vegetables into appealing mini-sculptures.

“Life is stressful enough for parents and children without making school lunches an area of competitiveness,” says Shafeeka Anthony, Marketing Manager of personal finance portal JustMoney.co.za, and a busy mother of two children. “Have some perspective and focus on health, quality and taste. This will save you time and money, and leave you with more cash to invest in your children’s long-term future.”

JustMoney provides ten lunchbox tips to relieve stress on a busy school day:

  1. Invest in decent containers: Buy a good-quality, sturdy, compartmentalised lunchbox and a small flask. This will save on packaging as you can place food directly into the lunchbox compartments. The flask will enable you to add hot drinks and nourishing soups to the menu.
  2. Set up lunchbox stations: Store non-perishable lunchbox items in one area, such as a dedicated kitchen shelf. Allocate a section of the fridge to perishable items. 
  3. Plan your school lunches: Draw up a roster of your children’s favourite foods and prepare a shopping list. This will help to ensure that you have all the ingredients on hand. 
  4. Shop online: Compare prices and, if a favourite item is on special, buy it in bulk when it makes sense.
  5. Check what’s in season: Buying seasonal fruit and vegetables will cut costs and expose your child to a variety of fresh foods.
  6. Make your own: Prepare your own popcorn, bake sweet potato and homemade chips, and make healthy muffins and fruit and nut bars.
  7. Involve your children: It’s pointless to buy food that kids “should” eat but do not enjoy. Make choosing and packing lunches a fun task that you can enjoy together.
  8. Prep ahead: A Sunday night is a good time to wash, slice and package food. Prepare nutritious snacks, boil eggs, and put aside what you know you’ll need in the morning.
  9. Avoid pre-sliced, individually wrapped items: Slice your own meats and cheeses. This will save money and avoid excessive plastic packaging. 
  10. Make the most of meal leftovers: Double up when making the family dinner, divide into portions, and freeze.

“Finally, remember to have fun when preparing for another busy school term. Your children grow up so fast, and time with them is precious,” advises Anthony. “Pop the occasional sweet treat in the lunchbox, include a loving note, tuck in a birthday surprise, or add a sticker that is bound to make them smile. There are so many pressures on children already, so don’t make school lunches the cause of family friction.”

JustMoney.co.za is a personal finance website that provides busy, digitally-savvy South Africans with easy, free access to financial information, services and products. JustMoney does this by partnering with trusted financial brands and offering trustworthy advice with interesting articles, hints and tips.

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