Holidays have come to an end and it is time to start getting things ready for the new school year. It could be your first time packing a lunchbox, or for others, it might be a time of looking for new ideas to keep the kids happy. Planning a healthy lunchbox is essential as some children are spending the majority of their day at school, and that little box (or sometimes suitcase!) should provide at least one-third of their nutritional requirements for the day. A little bit of planning will ensure your child can concentrate well at school and make the most out of learning time, as well as physical activity.
It is important to fill the lunchbox with a variety of foods from all the food groups to help your child get through the day without feeling hungry or tired.
Breads are the most common form of grains found in school lunch boxes. Use wholegrain pitas, wraps, rolls and various types of bread will not only provide a good source of carbohydrate, but also fibre and other essential nutrients.
The wholegrain part of the lunchbox does not have to be in the form of a sandwich though, you could switch it up to a rice or pasta salad. Try to use a wholegrain option like brown rice and change up the type of pasta you might include (both varying the shape, as well as the grain source – wheat, corn, rice, quinoa pasta etc).
Always make sure that children have protein at every main meal of the day. It is easy to add this protein into their sandwiches or salads in the form of cheese, egg, fish, chicken, meat, legumes (e.g. chickpeas, lentils, hummus dip) or nuts/nut butters. Other good sources of protein for lunch boxes are unsweetened yoghurts, custards or unprocessed cheese.
Be sure to pack at least one fruit serving into your child’s lunch box. Fruit contains many essential nutrients as well as fibre which will help keep your child full while they are at school. Different fruits contain different vitamins and minerals, so trying to vary the colour of the fruit you provide throughout the week will ensure that your child is receiving a good variety of nutrients.
Try to include some vegetables– this could be as salad in their sandwiches or a side salad, or some baby tomatoes, carrots, chopped peppers or celery sticks in the lunchbox to serve as a snack. Just like fruit, choose a variety of different coloured vegetables to make sure they get a variety of nutrients. It can sometimes be hard to get your children to eat enough vegetables so get them involved and let them help decide which vegetables will go into their lunch box to increase their interest in eating them. A small pot of dip, like hummus or guacamole, may make eating vegetables more appealing.
Water is the best drink and should be encouraged the most. Try to avoid providing sweet drinks like fruit juices and soft drinks as they provide a lot of calories without much nutrition.
What about treats?
A treat should be just that… a treat. Try to have one day of the week when you put a special treat into the lunchbox rather than putting ‘sometimes’ foods in every day. If possible, try to include homemade treats as these are always going to be better than what you buy from stores. If you have the time, get your children to help you make up a big batch of mini muffins or biscuits that you can freeze and pop into their lunchbox on the designated day. Include wholegrain flours, oats, seeds, fruit, vegetables and a few choc chips (to make them happy!) in your homemade recipes.