Today’s post is another in my ‘lunch box food ideas‘ mini-series, in which I am sharing food ideas to cover each of the five food groups that I use when packing lunches (you can read more about how I try to create balanced meals for Small Child’s lunches here). The food groups that I try to include in every lunch, based on the UK’s Eatwell Plate recommendations, are as follows: starchy foods (carbohydrates), vegetables, fruit, dairy and non-dairy protein. I hope that when the series is complete you will have a whole range of ideas to mix and match together, so that you can easily pack varied and interesting lunches to last the whole year through!
Last week I covered vegetables, and in today’s post I will explore non-dairy proteins, sharing with you 12 different ideas for protein rich foods that you can pack in your lunch box. The list is not intended to be exhaustive, just a good place to start if you’re looking for some fresh ideas. I’d also like to note that I am not a nutritionist or dietician – these ideas are based purely on my personal knowledge and research, and my own experience packing lunches for my family.
1. Tuna – I use tuna a lot in our lunches, usually stuffed in a pitta pocket, with some cucumber or lettuce. Mix with a little mayo or salad cream, add sweetcorn, chopped bell pepper or spring onion, and use to fill sandwiches, rolls, bagels, wraps or pitta breads, serve as part of a leafy salad, or mixed with pasta or rice.
2. Ham – Ham is probably the protein food I use most, because it’s a big favourite of Small Child’s, although I am trying to introduce a bit more variety! Add slices of ham to sandwiches, tortilla wraps, pitta pockets or the many other bread products available, serve by itself in small slices rolled up and skewered on food picks, or cut into small pieces and add to leafy salads, pasta, rice or quesadillas.
3. Eggs – Hard boiled eggs are a great easy source of protein, and are extra appealing when they’re moulded into fun shapes using an egg mould! Serve eggs whole, sliced, or mashed up with some mayo as a delicious sandwich filler. Use to make a frittata or mini omelettes in muffin cups (recipe to follow soon).
4. Sausages – Whilst not the healthiest of lunch box foods, sausages are always appreciated when they appear in our lunch boxes as an occasional treat. Serve whole, sliced, or empty the sausage meat from the skins, divide into walnut sized pieces and cook to make meatballs. Mix chunks of sausage with pasta or rice or use as a tasty sandwich filler.
5. Nuts – You’ll never see nuts in the school lunches I pack as Small Child’s school has a nut-free policy for all foods (due to a couple of children with severe allergies), but if you don’t have any such restrictions then nuts are a wonderful source of protein, as well as fibre, essential fats and a whole host of vitamins and minerals. There are so many of different nuts available, all with different properties and healthy benefits, our favourites are cashews and walnuts, but you could also try almonds, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans or pistachios. Serve a portion of nuts ‘as they come’ or add to salads, homemade muffins and cakes, homemade granola or crushed and sprinkled on yoghurts.
6. Prawns – I often forget about prawns, but they are a great lunch box food! Toss into leafy salads, stir into rice, pasta or cous cous, stuff into pitta bread pockets with some salad or mix with a little mayo or dressing and use as a tasty sandwich filler. Be sure to keep your lunch box cool – see this post for some handy tips in the hot weather.
7. Chickpeas – A great source of protein and they count as one of your vegetable portions too, which has got to be a good thing! You can roast chickpeas to make a tasty snack or side dish (see my child-friendly recipe here), or serve raw; stirred into leafy salads or cous cous.
8. Pâté – Although my waistline doesn’t agree, I really love pâté and Small Child does too. Serve with crackers, plain rice cakes, slices of pitta bread, cold toast, or use as a quick sandwich filler.
9. Roast Beef – Whether you use up leftovers from a Sunday roast or buy ready-roasted, roast beef makes a delicious alternative to ham or other sandwich meats. Roll up small slices to serve as a side with crackers or as a finger food, use as a sandwich filler, stuff into pitta pockets, roll up in tortilla wraps or shred to add to leafy salads or pasta.
10. Houmous – A big favourite of ours, houmous, is an excellent source of protein, among other things. Serve in a tub to spread on pitta bread, tortilla crisps or crackers, use to fill sandwiches, tortilla wraps or pitta pockets (it’s particularly delicious paired with feta cheese and/or roasted red peppers) or serve as a dip for crunchy vegetables such as carrots, cucumber, peppers or sugar snap peas. Houmous is readily available in the shops or it’s really easy to make your own too, I’m a big fan of this easy carrot houmous recipe.
11. Seeds – Another easy protein food to throw in your lunch box, there is a huge variety of seeds available in the supermarkets and healthy food shops. Serve as they are, mix with dried fruit to make a tasty trail mix, add to homemade granola and serve with yoghurt, sprinkle over leafy salads or stir into pasta, rice or cous cous salads for an extra healthy boost.
12. Chicken – Last but not least, chicken is a big favourite of ours! Use up leftovers from your Sunday roast or buy slices ready cooked, serve shredded as a side dish or mix in with leafy salads, pasta, rice or cous cous, use as a sandwich filler, stuff into pitta pockets or roll up in tortilla wraps. Home made chicken dippers or nuggets make a great lunch box finger food – there’s a simple recipe from Netmums here.
I hope I’ve managed to provide you with a few fresh ideas for your lunch box. I will be continuing this series next week with a selection of 12 different fruits that are perfect for packed lunches. In the meantime, if you’d like some more lunch ideas, check out my free downloadable list of lunch box food ideas.
Do you have any suggestions for other protein foods to use in a lunch box? I’d love to hear your ideas!