School is physically and mentally challenging. Good nutrition helps provide your child with the energy and vitality required to function well in the classroom and on the sporting field.
Children that have a more balanced lunch at school are also less likely to binge or graze on high energy/fat snack foods when they get home.
Most parents appreciate the importance of good nutrition and want to provide healthy food choices for their children. Uneaten and discarded lunches are a waste of ‘food’, ‘effort’ and ‘money’, all of which we want to avoid in this day and age!
Due to the amount of information included, the article is separated into 2 parts:
Part 1: Nutrition Tips for the Healthy Lunchbox
Part 2: Healthy and Practical Lunchbox Suggestions.
Part 1: NUTRITION TIPS FOR THE HEALTHY LUNCHBOX
- Often children don’t get a lot of allocated time to eat their lunch, so keep this in mind. Kids can also eat at different speeds to each other or want to get out and play so you might want to include easy to eat, ready prepared fruit, like a peeled Satsuma’s or chopped fruit, in their lunch box.
- Children eat different amounts of food according to their growth patterns. For smaller appetites pack smaller serves, i.e. Fruit and vegetables chopped up, sandwiches quartered. The foods appear more appealing, are easier to eat, and there is still time to play.
- Calcium is often lacking in children’s diets – provide calcium rich food each day i.e. Low fat milk, cheese and yoghurt.
- Fruit has more fibre than fruit juice. Fruit should be a regular lunchbox item.
- Our busy, time-poor lifestyle is conducive to using convenience (pre-packaged) foods. Unfortunately many of these foods are high in fat, salt and energy and should be used sparingly. When using convenience foods, check labels and choose foods that are higher in fibre and lower in fat and sugar.
Avoid: packet potato crisps or other snacks of this type, lollies, chocolate bars, chocolate biscuits, cordials and soft drinks, and some muesli bars.
- Involve your children in choosing their own lunch from a range of healthy options.
- Use wholegrain or wholemeal breads (for sandwiches where possible), and cakes rather than the low-fibre white varieties. Encourage children to eat crusts on sandwiches. If this is impossible, then cut off the crusts before packing to reduce waste.
- Use a variety of breads so that the children don’t get bored when the same ingredient is used regularly. Best of Both type of breads can be good for a change.
- To ensure sandwiches stay fresh, put them in a plastic wrap, snap-lock sandwich bags and\or an airtight lunchbox to prevent them from getting squashed.
- Use foil or greaseproof paper for smaller children who may have trouble taking off plastic wrap/clingfilm.
- Ensure filling is not too dry or too moist. If the filling is too dry, add a little low-fat yoghurt or grated vegetables to make the sandwiches more stable.
- Cutting sandwiches into different shapes – squares, triangles, animal shapes, fingers, rolled up or as small rolls provide interest.
- If the mornings are always a rush, save time by freezing prepared sandwiches. You can prepare and freeze quantities for about 2 weeks and choose suitable fillings such as: lean cooked meals, lean skin-free chicken, canned fish, low fat cheese, grated cheese, avocado, baked beans or a hard boiled egg. They can be removed from the freezer and put straight in the lunchbox and will thaw out (and be fresh) by mealtime.
- Most lunchboxes are kept out at room temperature for many hours – an ideal environment for undesirable bacteria. By including frozen foods; i.e. frozen sandwiches (see above), frozen drink bottles (leave room for expansion), frozen oranges or mandarins, yoghurts and\or an ice pack.
- Lunchboxes come in interesting shapes, colours and materials appealing to children. Choose an insulated lunchbox where possible.
- Wash lunchboxes daily and make sure that they are completely dry with the lid off before storing. Discard all foods brought home that can become contaminated.
- Avoid peanuts or any foods containing peanut products as these can cause severe allergic reactions in some children. Discourage children from swapping or sharing their lunch.
- Encourage children to drink lots of water while at school from their water bottle.
- Remember, parents are the best role models (even if the children won”t admit it). If parents eat well, then the children are more likely to copy. If children refuse foods, encourage them to just give it a try (without an unpleasant scene). If they don’t like it, then try the same food item again, prepared in a different way, in a couple of weeks’ time and repeat the exercise. As in Dr Suess’s famous book – “Green Eggs and Ham” you don’t know whether you will like it or not until you have tried it.
Part 2: HEALTHY AND PRACTICAL LUNCHBOX SUGGESTIONS
When putting together a healthy lunchbox, try to include a variety of healthy foods from each of the food groups (breads and cereals, fruit and vegetables, lean meats or protein substitutes, and dairy foods). Healthy lunchbox suggestions are outlined below under the following headings: 1) The Main Meal, 2) Dairy, 3) Fruit and vegetables, and 4) Snacks. This way you can mix and match healthy ideas, provide variety and interest and ensure a balanced meal. Keep an eye out for up and coming healthy meal & snack ideas included on my website.
1. The Main Lunch Meal
- Leftovers from dinner the night before
- Sandwiches with simple fillings on different types of breads (pita, rolls, bagels, French stick, paninis, muffins, crumpets, mixed grain, wholemeal, high-fibre white, rice or corn cakes etc) cut in small sizes for little people.Try these sandwich fillings:
- Light cream cheese, grated carrot, sultanas and celery
- Low-fat cheddar cheese, sliced apple and celery
- Tuna and grated cheese
- Cottage cheese, chopped dates, pineapple and sprouts
- Avocado, celery, tomato and lettuce
- Avocado, grated carrot and bean sprouts
- Lean ham and fruit chutney
- Chopped skinless chicken and tabouli / cous-cous
- Mashed bananas and cheese
- Homous and sun-dried tomato
- Pastas and noodle dishes
- Rice dishes
- Fish cakes, nuggets / fingers (see my recipe)
- Potato baked or as salads ie: with tuna, cheese etc.
- Meat and vegetable filled triangles
- Boiled eggs (kept cool in the lunchbox)
- Chicken nuggets – homemade if possible (see my recipe)
- Baked beans or tinned spaghetti
- Plain or flavoured milk (or Soy with calcium added). Try freezing the night before.
- Yogurts, crème-fraiche, fromage frais, fruit and custard packs, tropical smoothies, mousses, ricotta and yogurt dip, yogurt jellies, and rice custards, plain custards.
- Cheese fingers, slices, triangles
3. Fruit & Vegetables
- Fresh fruit (children tend to prefer it sliced which is easier to handle). For cut fruit that tends to go brown i.e. Apples – squeeze lemon juice
- Fruit snacks
- Dried fruit
- Jellied fruit
- Canned fruit
- Fruit salad
- Fruit kebabs (ie. piece of banana, strawberry, rock melon and paw paw per kebab)
- Frozen oranges
- Fruity yogurt salad
- Cherry tomatoes (for children older than 5 years as they can be a choking risk)
- Fruit smoothies and fruit whips
- Celery, carrot or zucchini sticks topped with soft cheese and sultanas
- Sweetcorn (canned or microwaved\steamed)
- Cakes, fruit buns and biscuits – plain varieties are healthiest
- Muffins and scones
- Muesli and fruit bars (check food labels and choose brands lower in sugar)
- Celery boats
- Rice cakes or low-fat cracker biscuits with scrape of reduced fat cheese or vegemite
- Rice crackers or baked wheat pretzels
- Mini wheat or weetbix breakfast cereal
- Popcorn and you could add a small amount of dried fruit for variety
- Pita chips (cut pita bread into triangles, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, bake for 15-20 minutes)
Ideas for healthier lunchboxes – For a healthy, balanced packed lunch, choose something from EACH FOOD GROUP 1, 2 & 3
Despite all the theory and best intentions in the world, children can be unpredictable, unfathomable and exasperating, and therefore, putting theory into practice is always challenging!