Annmarie Tuohy from www.stopfoodwaste.ie shares practical tips for parents on how to plan school lunches that are focused on their children's needs while avoiding food waste.

It’s back to school time again, which means a return to the morning rush, a constant scramble for lunchbox ideas and often uneaten or half-eaten lunches coming back home again. We all want our kids to enjoy a healthy and filling lunch while at school and here are some tips to ensure lunches don’t end up thrown in the bin! 

Meal prep is key
Planning and prepping food ahead is key to healthy lunches for the week. While this tip may seem quite a chore it is very effective. It just means spending a little time getting organised at the weekends to see you 'lunch ready’ for the week ahead. 

Get kids involved
Getting kids involved in making their lunches means they are more likely to eat what they have helped prepare. For younger kids you can give them different lunch options to choose from, while your teens could add their own lunch food list to the main shopping list. The idea is to try to keep school lunches nutritious, while also making sure our kids are interested in eating them. 

Take note of uneaten lunches
Keeping track of uneaten or half-eaten lunches is a great way to find out about your children’s lunch preferences and if they are tiring of certain foods. At the end of each week, you could check in to see what food your children don’t like as much or if there is something new they would like to try - often because their friend had it for lunch. This will help you make a list of lunch options that can be added to and changed over time. 

Use up leftovers
Using dinner leftovers for lunch the next day can make a quick and nutritious alternative to a sandwich. Many meal leftovers such as pasta, noodles, tortillas etc are just as good when eaten at room temperature while others e.g. stews can be kept warm in thermal containers which often come with a spoon and fork attached.  A range of thermal, reusable lunch boxes and containers on the market has opened-up new lunch options for your child.

Adapt to routines
Adapting lunches to school routines can help you to tailor school lunches so that your child has time to eat their food during breaks and reduces food wasted e.g. small-sized or pre-cut fruit take less time to eat and cut back on waste. Where microwaves are not available in schools your child can have a warm lunch e.g. soup or meal leftovers using thermal flasks.

For more guidance on helping your kids settle back into school, visit gov.ie