While parents might be looking forward to the return to school, many may be dreading the daily lunchbox preparation. With kids eating up to 1/3 of their food in school, what goes in their lunchbox makes an important contribution to their health, development and their immune system. Heather, herself a mum of 3, shares some ideas. Read on or watch her in action on Virgin Media Weekend AM this Saturday at 9.45am.
The background – lots of opportunity!
Recent UK research published in the British Medical Journal shows that less than 2% of primary school kids have packed lunches that meet nutritional standards. Patterns are similar here and we know that < 20% of kids in Ireland are getting enough fruit and veg or fibre. Eating too little of these significantly increases their risk of future chronic disease and establishes eating habits that are much harder to change when older. More immediately, healthier options will support better energy and concentration over a long school day.
The ham sambo is still the most popular lunchbox option, but it is certainly not the healthiest. White and even granary sliced pan is lower in fibre and less nutritious than wholegrain. Processed meat is usually made from reformed offcuts of meat, held together with gums, additives and preservatives and WHO recommendations are to minimise intake. While it’s ok every now and then, it’s not ideal to be eating it every day. Try swapping it out for egg, fish, hummus or leftover roast chicken …..
What should be included in a lunch box
|One portion of veg||Carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas, pepper, cucumber, sprouts, veg soup, egg fried rice with veg. Or whatever you child enjoys or will try|
|One portion of fruit||Grapes, apple, pear, satsuma, orange quarters, berries, kiwi, melon / pineapple chunks ….|
To keep kids full and support growth
|eggs, fish (e.g. tinned salmon, which has more omega 3 than tuna), cheese, natural yoghurt, nuts and nut butters if allowed, seeds, roast chicken, falafel|
|Wholegrains / complex carbs
For longer lasting energy and fibre
|wholegrain bread, wraps and pittas, wholegrain crackers, oatcakes, rice cakes, wholegrain pasta or rice…|
Think outside the (lunch)box!
Lunch does not need to be the classic sandwich. Instead, try a slice of quiche, wholegrain rice cakes with dip like hummus, sushi, falafel…..
Smaller kids often prefer bite sized pieces they can pick at and for them, having a variety of chopped up or bite sized fruit and veg with wholegrain crackers, chunks of cheese, seeds, dip can be a great option.
During the colder months, bringing warm food can be a good option e.g. veg soup (home-made or a good shop bought version), chilli, pasta, egg fried rice or other leftovers from dinner. If you plan this when making the dinner, you can save lots of time and effort not to mention money. Use a food flask, widely available, to keep things warm and avoid leaks
Save time in the morning by prepping as much as you can the night before – make the sandwich filling, wash the fruit, put the dip into small containers in the fridge….
Get your child involved in preparing the lunchbox and choosing what goes into it – guided by you of course! Ask what their friends have that might appeal to them. And get them involved in cleaning their lunchbox when they get home too. They can finish off anything they have not managed to eat at school.
It may not be realistic to make everything from scratch and in the real world most of us want short cuts. In the supermarket steer clear of products aimed specifically at kids, like yoghurt tubes and cereal bars. Most of these are high in sugar and expensive. Some better buys include:
- Falafel. Pack with some veg sticks, wholegrain pitta strips and hummus
- Blocks of cheese that you can slice or cube at home. Usually a better option than cheese strings or other processed cheese
- Fresh pesto. Spread on a wrap or mix with full fat yoghurt to make a healthy dip
- Hummus. Chose a variety with a short ingredient list and avoid sweeteners
- Fresh, vegetable-based soups. Try Just Food, Happy Pear and Fusion
- Packs of seeds are a great addition, full of healthy fats and fine where nuts are banned. Mix with dried fruit at home and include in lunch box
- Wholegrain crackers – oat cakes, rice cakes, Ryvita…. Some are packed in small packs of 4 or 5, ideal for lunch boxes
What to drink?
- Always give water to drink. The average primary school child needs to drink about 1.5L water daily
- Kids are greater risk of dehydration than adults due to their lower body weight and smaller reserve of body fluids. They can also fail to recognise the early stages of thirst. Research suggests that just a 1% to 2% body weight loss can lead to significant reductions in concentration
- Avoid sugary drinks including fruit juices, cordials, flavoured milks and yoghurt drinks. Give water instead
- If your child is sporty, they will need more water. Make sure to include additional water in their sports bag or remind them to refill their water bottle
A lunchbox plan for a week
|Wholegrain chicken sandwich, apple, carrot sticks, pumpkin seeds|
|Tuesday||Wholegrain pitta with tinned salmon, sweetcorn and a little mayo, natural yoghurt with berries, pepper sticks|
|Wednesday||Tomato and lentil soup, cheddar cubes, grapes, oat cakes or brown bread
|Falafel, hummus, rice or oat cakes, sugar snap peas, plum / kiwi|
|Friday||Wholegrain pasta with pesto and peas, watermelon pieces or other fruit, nuts / seeds, radish or sprouts|
Download our lunchbox handout for more ideas.
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