With the kids heading back to school for the last term of the year, many parents will be once again staring blankly at the supermarket's lunchbox line-up, looking for inspiration.
If you're trying to avoid plastic covered and sugar-filled treats, former Masterchef contestant Jax Hamilton is here to help.
The mother-of-two and successful businesswoman says she knows well the stresses of preparing a variety of healthy lunches kids will actually want to eat.
"I used to work a corporate job while raising two kids so I know just how hard it can be to find the time and inspiration to make the kids' lunches - and get them to eat it all!" she tells Newshub.
"My own experience and love of food has made me especially passionate about inspiring others in the kitchen and making it fun and exciting.
"Using creative but simple, out-of-the-box recipes is a great way to get your kids involved and keep your kids excited about their food."
After answering some of our questions about lunchbox dos and don'ts and providing some of her key tips and tricks, Hamilton also gave us some of her favourite affordable and creative recipes kids will likely be excited to eat at lunchtime.
What are your go-to easy peasy lunchbox offerings that are still vaguely nutritious?
My quick as a flash, NutriBullet homemade smoked paprika hummus, swirled with some mayonnaise is nutty, creamy and divine. Throw in a handful of fresh chopped veggies for dipping and you have a fantastic little picnic in a box.
What's your advice for parents struggling with fussy eaters, or those bringing home full lunchboxes?
This is a historical issue that every parent suffers from at one time or another. What we have to remember is there are actually 21 meals in a week and school lunches take up only five of those. So there are times when you have to consider what's more important. Your child having a 'healthy' lunchbox which doesn't get eaten, wastes money and ends up in the bin vs a not so healthy box which sustains your child throughout the day. Remember breakfast and dinner belongs to us as parents, so concentrate more on what you can control versus what is out of our control.
How do you keep lunches interesting and fun as kids get older?
For me, it's about frequent changes and surprises. Being proactive and spending a little time at the weekend to ensure your pantry and freezer have enough variation to create an appetising lunch, not just for your children but for you too.
What's your biggest no-no when it comes to school lunches?
Anything loaded with sugar, additives or too much salt. I'm not a big fan of overly processed food as it's deceptive to the body and creates unrealistic palate expectations. Having a flavourful lunchbox doesn't have to mean E-numbers and sugar.
Jax's creative lunchbox tips and tricks
Encourage your kids to pick a day and colour and create their lunch based around that colour. On green day that could be cucumber sushi with avocado filling, green jelly, grapes, a boiled egg cooked in water with green colouring. Keep it fun and exciting!
Shake up the classic bread and chippies combo, swapping the chips with pretzels, corn chips, or falafels. Get creative and swap out bread for rice paper wraps, egg or rice noodles, or dumpling skins.
Mystery lunchbox: No peeping until lunchtime
Try out a themed lunch: sandwiches cut to look like animals, favourite cartoon characters, minions. Think outside the box and incorporate some of your kids' favourite things.
Superhero box - try a super sammie or a super smoothie aka Batman fuel.
Harry Potter box - a carrot wand, frog-shaped sandwiches
Keeping cool: Frozen lemon juice sponge
Take a thin wash-up sponge and soak in water and lemon juice then squeeze out excess liquid. Seal the sponge in a bag and throw into the freezer. The next day, lay at the bottom of the lunchbox to keep lunch cool during hot days. When the box comes home, remove it from the bag and wipe it clean. No icky chemicals and fresh and natural (lemon is naturally antibacterial). Refresh the sponge by popping it through the dishwasher. Each child can have their own colour.
Easy and affordable lunchbox recipes
Crispy pork sausage & black bean quesadilla
As an alternative to a regular sandwich, these spicy quesadillas hit the mark every time.
- Drizzle of oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 3 pork sausages
- 1 tbsp taco seasoning
- 2 tbsp water
- 1 tin black beans, drained
- 1.5 cup grated cheese
- Fresh parsley, chopped
- Oil for frying
- 8 small tortilla wraps
- ½ cup mayo
- ¼ cup tomato sauce
- Dash of tabasco sauce (optional)
- In a large frying pan, add the oil and onion. Fry gently until soft and fragrant.
- Push the meat from the sausage skins and drop into the pan with the onion. Increase the heat, toss around the pan and fry until the meat is crispy and golden.
- Sprinkle in taco seasoning, cook for 1 - 2 minutes, then drizzle in water until the meat is coated in a thick sauce.
- Add black beans, mix and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- In a clean frying pan, add a little oil and place a tortilla on the bottom of the pan (or you can use spray oil directly on the tortilla). Spread a spoonful of the sausage mixture in one layer onto the tortilla, then top with a spoonful of cheese, sprinkle of parsley and another tortilla. Press down firmly with a spatula.
- Cook on one side until the cheese has melted and the tortilla is golden, then gently flip over. Slide from the pan, when cold, either store in the fridge until ready to use or slice into wedges and straight into lunch boxes.
- Dip: Mix all the ingredients together.
Jax says: The filling can be made up to two days before and stored in the fridge. Feel free to be adventurous with your choice of sausages.
Lunchbox love: Pop wedges of these amazing quesadillas into lunchboxes with a pottle of mayo and tom sauce dip. Chopped avocado and fresh cherry tomatoes are a fabulous addition too.
Potato, carrot and spring onion rosti
This is a fun recipe to make with the kids that offers lots of fabulous kitchen interaction.
- 3 spring onions, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- ½ tbsp cornflour
- 2 potatoes, peeled
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 egg
- Oil for frying
Mayo and fresh herb dip:
- ¾ cup mayo
- Pinch garlic salt
- ½ cup fresh herbs, chopped
- In a bowl mix together spring onions, carrot and garlic. Sieve in the cornflour then season with salt and pepper.
- Grate the potatoes onto a clean tea towel and squeeze out any excess liquid. You may need to do this more than once. When dry to touch, tumble them into the bowl of ingredients. Add the egg and mix well.
- Add the oil to the frying pan, when hot add spoonfuls of the potato and carrot mixture - flatten gently with the back of the spoon. If you want to be a little 'chef-fy' feel free to use a cookie cutter to help shape them.
- Don't overload the pan, cook around 2 -3 at a time. Fry until golden and crispy on one side before flipping over. Drain on kitchen paper.
Dip: Mix ingredients together until ready to use.
Jax says: Any hard vegetable can be used to create these rostis; kumara, pumpkin, swede or parsnip. Get creative in the kitchen and see if your children notice if you swap out the potato for something else.
Lunchbox love: Pop the rostis in the lunchboxes with a side of dip. Chunks of fresh cucumber and a little wedge of cheese.