Healthy lunch box ideas
Amanda McCredie – Dietician
Preparing and packing a healthy lunchbox can be a difficult task. Finding time to shop and prepare interesting and healthy meals for school lunches can be stressful. But the foods we send to school with our kids potentially contribute up to 1/3 of their daily intake of nutrients. So it’s important to pack a balanced lunch to ensure they’re getting the nutrients they need.
Most children spend at least 7 hours at school each school day. Their time is physically and mentally challenging. Good nutrition helps provide them with the energy and vitality required to function effectively in the classroom, playground and on the sporting field. Most parents recognise the value of good nutrition and aim to provide healthy food choices for their children. Creating “the perfect lunchbox” (where the healthy contents magically vanish – by being consumed) is important for children’s overall nutrition. It’s important to keep offering healthy lunch box choices in a variety of ways, as children learn to eat what is familiar to them.
Encourage children to help choose and prepare their own lunch. They might like to make a list of the foods they enjoy. Another thing to point out is that children eat different amounts of food according to their growth patterns. They will also eat more some days and less on other days. Try not to stress over the quantity especially if you are giving them the right quality of food. 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.
One of the biggest issues with today’s lunchboxes is that they are high in carbohydrate The average lunchbox is filled with snacks including muesli bars, chips, biscuits, white bread sandwiches and fruit juice which can account for more than 60% carbohydrate. While growing, active kids need plenty of energy, energy in the form of processed, high sugar carbohydrates snacks such as fruit snacks, juices, snack bars and biscuits are digested quickly and leave kids prone to overeating and lethargic due to the highs and lows of the sugar spikes. These foods are also harmful on our kids teeth exposing them to sugars which increase the risk of tooth decay.
The trick for parents is finding the right balance between good nutrition and foods that children want to eat when packing a school lunchbox.
Healthy and Practical Lunch Box Ideas
When putting together a healthy lunchbox, 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). Foods to include in your kids lunchbox are:
- Fresh fruit (in season)
- Crunchy vegetables
- A meat or protein food such as slices of lean meat, hardboiled egg, peanut butter or nut paste*
- Dairy food such as a cheese stick or slice, grated cheese, milk or yoghurt
- Starchy food such as bread, a roll, pita or flat bread, fruit bread or crackers. Wholegrain choices are also recommended over the white varieties. This section can also include pasta, rice, quinoa which may be in the form of leftovers.
Here are some healthy suggestions to get the nutrition right in your kid’s lunch box.
- Fruit– best choices include fresh or tinned fruit. Dried fruit is sticky and high in sugar, so have it occasionally. Best left out of the lunch box are dried fruit bars and ‘straps’, which are very high in sugar, low in fibre and stick to children’s teeth causing tooth decay.
- Vegetables– try vegetable sticks with dip or a small container with mixed vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks, capsicum and cucumber.
- Dairy– include a small drink of milk or some yoghurt (freeze overnight) to keep cool.
- Dips, cheese and biscuits– pre-packaged or your own homemade versions of cheese and crackers are fine. Children enjoy mini packaged cheeses. Avoid sweet dips such as chocolate spreads. ‘Oven-baked’ savoury biscuits are just as high in salt and fat as chips and are best avoided.
- Breads – include a variety of bread, especially if children begin to lose interest in sandwiches. Try bread rolls, pita bread, flat bread, wraps, fruit loaf, crisp breads, rice cakes or corn thins.
- Vary the fillings – fillings can include vegemite or other yeast extract, 100% natural peanut butter (if allowed), cheese (try different types), tuna, egg, sliced cold meats, baked beans, grated carrot and lettuce, chopped roast meat and avocado. Dips like hommus, tzatziki or guacamole also make good spreads. Avoid chocolate spreads, jams and honey, and fatty meats like salami
- Muffins and cakes– try making your own muffins and cakes as a great way to include more fruit and vegetables. Examples include sultana, carrot, zucchini, banana or pumpkin.