For many parents, the arrival of a new school year brings with it a certain amount of blessed relief. That is until they remember the Pandora's Box that also lays in wait: the task of packing the perfect lunch box for your fussy child. Suddenly your delight is tempered with dread.
But this year, you can make the return of untouched food from school a thing of the past. Because Kim McCosker, the doyenne of all things simple and delicious, and co-founder of the successful 4 Ingredients franchise - the biggest selling self-published title in Australian history - shares with us her fail safe tips when it comes to fighting the fussy food war.
Foremost, she believes that starting the day the right way will give you a head start. Divulging that one of her son's is not a fan of the sandwich come lunchtime, she advocates this tip: "He'll start the day with a really healthy breakfast; I think that's my saviour."
From there it is on to creating the contents of an easy, but most importantly, enticing array of lunch box friendly foods sure to tempt your child.
"The lunch box, if you look at, is a series of snacks," Kim explains.
With contents such as a custard cup, yoghurt in a little container (she encourages buying in bulk and dishing out as desired to save on costs), a frozen healthy juice, some CC's with cheese and carrots to make mini nacho's, and of course fruit. However, she warns, when doling out the latter don't go overboard. Work out what fruit they like and be realistic about how much they will eat. A conversation about this compromise can be helpful too.
"Now mate, you've got eight grapes, how are you going to go with that today champ? I don't want them coming back," she says, an example of a chat she has with one of her sons.
"If they open it up and see volumes of food ..." she trails off, a shudder evident in her tone "they'll automatically assume feeding time will erode away play time and that is often why lunch boxes return home almost in the same state as when they left your kitchen bench hours before!"
She also offers exasperated parents this advice: "Decrease the size but increase the amount." So instead of giving your child four separate items, give five, but make them smaller portions.
Parents should also make use of dinner leftovers to concoct an appealing packed lunch - something which will also save you time in your morning.
"What am I cooking for dinner? Can I make extra and give it to them the next day?" Kim suggests you ask yourself.
For instance, if you are cooking her Echidna Balls recipe, she recommends making them into small portions (think a 20c piece), cut and place them on little dinner rolls for an alternative to a sandwich.
Also, planning ahead is a must. That's why on Sunday afternoons you will find Kim doing two things in her kitchen - baking her 4 Ingredients cupcakes and making her signature tasty M&M slice. By rationing these out you have yourself an economical and time saving solution to get you through the week. But before you think that this might not be the healthiest snack, Kim puts this into perspective.
"Life is about balance. I'm not suggesting you give the whole slice to your child in one day," she says, reminding us that kids burn a lot of energy, and you will have no doubt packed a varied and wholesome lunch for them to eat during the day so this treat will not hurt.
And for those who question how you achieve a nutritious food intake when you are only working with a small number of ingredients, Kim shares her philosophy.
"Use four ingredients as a really good base to create fantastic food. You add to that then what suits your family, their diet, their palate. You add to that, more importantly, what you think they will eat."
So if you want your child to arrive home from school with a full tummy and empty lunchbox, remind yourself of Kim's kitchen wisdom.
"It doesn't matter if it has four ingredients or 40, if you go to the effort of making it, you want it to be eaten."
- Essential Kids