It takes a village to raise a child, but the demands of modern life have made it increasingly necessary for us to curate the village.
“We’re becoming a society of convenience – not because we’re lazy, but out of necessity,” owner of Smiley’s Little Lunch Boxes Lucy Roberts says.
“We’re naturally getting busier. We’re more spread out, commutes to work are longer, peak hour traffic is heavier, we’re working longer hours and our jobs are more demanding.
“All these little things are adding up to less time for our other commitments, which are also becoming more demanding.”
Lucy is no stranger to the demands of modern life.
The chef owns Smiley’s Cafe at Power Kart Raceway with partner Dan Rawson, who has small children. Adding lunchboxes to the endless to-do list was a shock to the system.
“It sounds like a small thing but adding lunchboxes to the mix was such a drama,” she says.
“Being a chef, I didn’t want to give the kids the same thing every day. It also needs to be balanced. Then one kid doesn’t like one thing and the other doesn’t like another thing, so taking into account preferences and intolerances – it was amounting to time I didn’t have.”
Lucy started looking for an option to outsource this job, but nothing met the criteria – a complete and balanced school lunch box that included morning and afternoon teas.
It led to a lightbulb moment.
“I thought surely we couldn’t be the only parents in Canberra looking for this; there had to be so many people in our situation,” she says.
Smiley’s Little Lunch Boxes kicked off at the start of the year and business is picking up. Initially, Lucy’s expectation was her customer base would comprise full-time working parents with school-aged kids. Reality proved the market was much broader.
“One customer is a mum with a school kid, toddler and baby, and everyone but the baby gets lunch boxes. I probably don’t need to explain that it’s hard to find time for anything when you have a newborn,” Lucy says.
“Single parents are another demographic that sometimes needs a bit of extra help.”
Lucy says among the customer base are simply busy people who choose not to spend their precious little spare time sorting lunches.
“We only get so much time to spend with our families, our partners, ourselves and downtime is so hard to come across these days. But our time is valuable. Without a doubt, it’s the most valuable thing we have,” she says.
“We have less time to do the things we need to do yet there are more things to do and it’s not enough to just get it all done – it has to meet a whole new standard.
“Lunchboxes are a prime example. They come with quite a criteria these days. Make it nut-free and watch for other allergens. That one has too much plastic and this one isn’t healthy enough …”
Smiley’s delivers lunches directly to your door three times a week for freshness.
A term’s worth of menus is released at a time, with six full weeks of different menus on rotation so there are minimal repeats.
Each day offers two regular options, a vegetarian option, a gluten-free option and a “fussy eater” build-a-box option.
Each box contains a main, a vegetable and fruit portion, a savoury snack and a sweet snack, all laid out in a bento-box style that Lucy says has an enormous appeal with the littlies.
“We have had a lot of feedback that kids are trying things they would never have tried before,” she says.
Mains range from pastas to wraps, spring rolls to sandwiches, savoury vegetable slices and rolls. Lucy draws inspiration from food magazines, her mum’s recipes and her own repertoire, adapting them for the lunch box.
With the actual food down packed, Lucy is turning her attention to improving another part of the value proposition she says is particularly important to her customers – sustainable packaging. She aims to use 90 per cent eco-packaging by the end of this term.
The business is expanding into adult lunch boxes around June and partnerships with local schools.
“Some schools never got canteen services up and running again after the pandemic, which creates another logistical issue that busy people don’t have time to deal with,” she explains.
“And that’s the product we’re really selling – time.”
For more information on Smiley’s Little lunch boxes, visit the website.