This post is the second in a new mini-series here on the Eats Amazing blog, 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 starchy foods, and in today’s post I will explore vegetables, sharing with you 12 different ideas for vegetables 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. Cucumber - One of our favourite lunch box vegetables, cucumber can be presented in several ways - cut into sticks, disks, cubes or chunks, served up with a dip such as houmous or garlic mayo for dipping, or chopped and stirred into a rice, couscous or pasta salad. Cut thick slices into shapes or remove the middles with mini bento cutters to make it decorative as well as tasty!
2. Carrot - Carrot is another perfect lunch box staple in the vegetable department. We love carrot so much, I once wrote a whole blog post devoted to the different ways of using them in your lunch! Cut them into sticks, disks, cubes or chunks, cut into shapes with mini bento cutters, make strips with a julienne cutter, grate into salads, or make them the star of a carrot salad. Look out for different varieties, such as mini baby carrots, or those fabulous rainbow carrots that come in amazing colours such as purple, red and yellow!
3. Peas - You may not instantly think of peas as a lunch box vegetable, but they are a very quick and easy option. As well as counting towards your 'five a day', they are also a great source of protein, so cover two foods groups at once. You can pop frozen peas in your lunch box straight from the freezer - they'll have defrosted by lunch time. Serve on their own as a side dish, or mix with other vegetables and add to rice, couscous or pasta to make a delicious salad. During the summer, fresh peas in their pods are often readily available, and add an extra element of fun if children have a chance to pod the peas themselves!
4. Sweetcorn - Like peas, sweetcorn can be popped into a lunch box straight from the freezer, and will be nicely defrosted by lunch time. Tinned sweetcorn also works nicely of course, and there's nothing better than fresh sweetcorn still on the cob! Serve a portion of sweetcorn 'just as it is', mix in with chicken or tuna, or add to rice, couscous, pasta or leafy vegetables as part of a delicious salad.
5. Tomatoes - Slice tomatoes and add to sandwiches, chop them for salads or cut into wedges to eat on the side. Cherry tomatoes make a great (and convenient) finger food, and come in various shapes and fun colours too.
6. Sugar Snap Peas - Small Child loves sugar snap peas, he thinks it's really fun that he gets to eat the pods! Serve raw, lightly steamed or even stir-fried with noodles.
7. Spinach -Raw or cooked, spinach is really good for you. I often use raw baby leaf spinach in the place of lettuce - added to wraps, sandwiches and pitta breads, or as part of a tasty salad. Stir cooked spinach into rice or pasta for an extra vegetable boost.
8. Pepper - Pepper is another vegetable that I use all the time in our lunch boxes. With its rainbow of colours, it looks as pretty as it tastes! Cut it into sticks, straight across the middle into rounds, use mini cutters to make fun pepper shapes, or chop and add to rice, couscous, pasta or leafy vegetables as part of a delicious salad. Look out for mini peppers too, they are perfect for lunch boxes.
9. Broccoli - Serve raw, lightly steamed, or even stir-fried, with a dip such as houmous or cream cheese for dipping. We've always called the florets 'broccoli trees', which somehow makes them seem that little bit more fun!
10. Beetroot - I was surprised to find that beetroot went down extremely well with Small Child recently. You can buy it ready peeled and cooked or roast it yourself. Serve in slices or chunks, whizz it with a bit of yoghurt to make a brilliantly pink dip, or grate it (cooked or raw) into salads. You can even add beetroot to chocolate cakes or muffins - a very tasty way to sneak extra vegetables into your child!
11. Mange Tout - Like sugar snap peas, mange tout makes an easy and convenient lunch box food. Serve raw, lightly steamed or stir-fried.
12. Baby Sweetcorn - I love anything that comes in miniature, so baby sweetcorn has always been a favourite of mine! Serve it whole, halved or sliced across into little rounds - it can be eaten raw, lightly steamed or stir-fried.
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 sources of protein 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 vegetables to use in a lunch box? I’d love to hear your ideas!