Healthy Lunch Box Make-over
Shockingly a recent study found that only one in 10 school lunch boxes contained foods that meet nutritional guidelines. It was found that the average lunch box was made up of a white-bread sandwich, packet of potato chips, and a biscuit or chocolate bar. Only 32% had 2 serves of fruit or vegies.
Yes making lunches can be a very time-consuming process and looking for time saving options is highly lucrative, especially when you go to the effort of preparing healthy options, only to have a full lunchbox returned at the end of the day! There are only so many half eaten apples and fermented cheese and salad sandwiches we can take before we give in to “pester pressure” 🙂
However, especially given our worsening state of health as a nation, it is INCREDIBLY important that we all evaluate and reflect on just what we are feeding our kids…
What we feed our children today trains adult tastes and preferences. Whilst some parents say to me, “It’s ok (Harry) burn’s it off in 5 seconds- he never sits still- he needs the extra energy”, the important thing to consider is that it’s not necessarily only the calories that matter in selecting food for our children, but the nutritional value. We eat not just to provide calories to our body but to provide it with important tools that are essential for healthy and optimal development, particularly brain development.
Eating “junk” can correlate with lower concentration, delayed learning and ultimately lowered intelligence, behavioural issues and generally a more difficult kid.
In the long term, bad eating habits and poorly trained tastes can lead to weight gain, susceptibility to lifestyle related diseases such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and a whole host of other avoidable and unpleasant outcomes.
I often remind parents that if they don’t teach “Johnny” an appreciation and enjoyment of healthy foods now, then Johnny may end up in my office in the future, where they are sitting now, having to re-learn good eating habits and re-train taste-buds because his doctor has told him he is on the way to diabetes. Sounds harsh but I’m afraid, its reality. This scenario can be avoided however by getting the whole family on track and eating well now. Healthy eating can be fun and affordable for the whole family, and what’s more, the benefits to the daily moods and future health of the whole family are priceless.
Starting with the lunch box is significant as this should be providing anywhere between a third to a half of a child’s daily nutritional requirements.
Ok, so let’s get started on the Healthy Lunch Box Makeover!
The type of lunchbox and other tools, to use are an important consideration
- Shape? Size? Compartments are good as they keep sandwiches separate from fruit and remind us to include a variety of foods.
- Two separate lunch boxes can work well, especially for young children- one for morning tea, one for lunch. This leaves no guessing as to what or how much to eat, and no risk of dropping lunch on the ground whilst eating morning tea.
- In the summer, freezer blocks or frozen water bottles, to keep lunches cold and safe. Pack in a zip-lock plastic bag, or wrap in a small towel to soak up water. Encourage children to eat chilled food at morning tea.
- Use cling-wrap or paper bags for sandwiches- sealing with a sticker is a novel way to add some excitement to an otherwise “boring” sandwich.
- Snap lock re-sealable mini plastic bags for nuts, dried fruit and other little snacks are useful.
- Clear containers are perfect for freezing or chilling chopped fresh fruit, yoghurt and milk.
The issue of bread..
- There are so many options for bread out there these days, it is possible to find a suitable and accepted alternative for any white-bread fanatic. Wean children from white bread to grain by making “rainbow” sandwiches- one slice white- the other grain.
- Wholemeal flour wraps, or mountain bread, may be more appealing to some children.
- Often presenting things in another way- however slightly- can make all the difference. For example, mini rolls or bagels, sandwiches cut into triangles, or three fingers, etc.
- Another thing we used to love as kids were pre-made “jaffles”. Baked bean and cheese sandwiches popped into the “jaffle” (sandwich) maker, toasted, cooled, refrigerated overnight, and off in the lunch-box the next day- delicious!
- And what about left-over “pita pizza’s”? If having these for dinner, make extra, allow to cool, slice, wrap in foil and send off in the lunch box the next day- a great way to add vegies to a lunch item!
- None of us are meeting our minimum quota for fresh fruit and veg every day. We must not kid ourselves that the highly over-marketed, over-processed “fruit bar” actually contains “fruit” that is good for our kids. Forget packaged snacks. Go back to basics.
- Make up “vegie-bags” for children- sticks of carrot, celery, capsicum in a snap-lock freezer bag. You can add a nutritious dip for these such as hummus, peanut butter, salsa or tzatziki. Or round slices of carrot in with some sultana’s or raisin’s, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and almonds- YUM! A cooked and cooled cob of corn, from the night before, can be a tasty treat.
- Fresh fruit can again be more exciting and attractive if just presented a little differently. Forget whole pieces of fruit- visually unappealing for children who are used to “novel”, colourful and exciting packages. Cut up or slice fruit into tubs. Lemon juice on apple halves or quarters will stop them from browning. Fruit kebabs are also a fun idea- but remove sharp ends!
- Try setting fresh fruit in jelly, or chop up fresh fruit and swirl though yoghurt. Adding cinnamon, passionfruit or berries to low fat natural yoghurt can be a delicious and accepted option.
- Salad in sandwiches is an ideal way to get children to eat more vegies, but they can make bread soggy, so it may be an idea to pack salad vegies separately in a clear container allowing your child to assemble their sandwich at school. Try and put a fun spin on this.
- Not all children take well to new foods, so introduce them slowly, one at a time, over a few weeks.
- Get children involved in preparing their own lunches. Offer them a selection of healthy foods and get them to choose what they want on a particular day. Always praise children for healthy choices.
- Children dehydrate more quickly than adults as they have a high surface area in relation to their weight. By the time they feel thirsty, they are already dehydrated. Dehydrated kids may present as tired, headachy, lethargic- especially when they arrive home from school and want to do little more than slump in front of the TV.
- Like us, children need to develop a “habit” of drinking water- even when they are not thirsty. This is especially important in summer and when playing sport.
- Always send your children to school with a water bottle. Freezing the night before keeps it cool for the next day.
- Often children simply forget to drink and their water bottle slips to the bottom of their bag and returns home untouched. If children refuse to drink plain water add a squeeze of lemon juice, or fresh orange or lime. Adding slices of these citrus fruits can give a visually appealing look and may be especially fun when the bottle is frozen.
- Avoid straight fruit juices, sports drinks and fizzy drinks. The extra calories, sugar and acid are unnecessary and harmful to teeth and growing bones.
Finally- “forgotten” lunches
- It is inevitable that some lunch boxes will return untouched and children may complain about some foods they are given. This is to be expected and just a part of the process. Work with your child to make healthy ideas novel and exciting. Insist that lunches are now to be healthy, colourful and full of fresh fruit and veg. Explain to them why we need certain foods. Prepare lunches together, make competitions to see who can come up with the healthiest and most creative sandwich filling for the week. Look for recipe ideas together. “Perimeter-shop” at the supermarket and avoid any type of packaged snack as much as possible- there really is little need for them when you both work together and become creative.
- With the future health of your child depending on the daily food and activity choices they are making now, the extra time and thought that will initially go into making over their lunch boxes (and tastebuds), will be well worth the effort! You are setting the foundations for a healthy lifestyle in adulthood. Congratulations! 🙂
Some more ideas…
Alternatives to Sandwiches:
- Left over “healthy” fried rice
- Brown rice salads- try currants, nuts, celery and grated carrot OR tuna, peas, corn and carrot
- Leftover pasta dishes with plenty of added vegies
- Pasta salads- capsicum, low fat mayonnaise, tinned corn, green beans, hard boiled and sliced eggs, etc
- Mini quiches or fritatta’s baked in large muffin tins
- Small tin of baked beans- to be eaten cold
- Vegetable patties- salmon and corn fritters are tasty OR grated vegetable patties
- Soup in a thermos with a wholegrain roll spread with low fat cream cheese.
Other snack ideas:
- Air popped pop corn- no added salt or butter
- Home-baked fruit muffins, date or cheese scones, date and walnut loaf, carrot and nut cake
- Home-made muesli bars
- Dried fruit and nuts; trail mix
- Frozen yoghurt- spoon fresh yoghurt into a small container, or freeze a 200gram tub
- Plain yoghurt with chopped fresh fruit
- Home-made creamed rice
The Ideal Packed Lunch
- Fresh Fruit and Vegetables- canned or dried may be an alternative option occasionally. Raw and crunchy veg are delicious- baby tomatoes, snow peas, capsicum, carrot sticks
- Low fat dairy- low fat yoghurt, reduced-fat cheese or milk
- Protein based foods- hard boiled eggs, tuna, lean meat, chicken or salmon, nuts- important for growth and development and provide long lasting energy to avoid afternoon slump
- Carbohydrate based food- unrefined wholegrain bread, pasta, brown rice, cous cous
No room for:
Lollies, chocolate, potato chips, corn chips, cakes, bought muesli bars, processed meats such as salami, doughnuts, fruit straps, soft drinks, fruit juices- these should be OCCASIONAL treats only
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