For many parents, back to school also means back to making the daily lunchboxes, not usually anyone’s favourite job! But with kids eating up to 1/3 of their daily food in school, what goes into the school lunchbox plays an important role in their health, development and even their ability to learn.
What should be in a lunch box – think 4:
- 1 portion of veg, for fibre, vitamin C and to help increase veg intake – whatever your kid will eat or at least try. Carrot / cucumber sticks, cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas, pepper, radish….
- 1 portion of fruit, for fibre and vitamin C– apple, plum, banana, grapes, satsuma, berries, kiwi, fruit salad or dried fruit…..
- 1 portion wholegrain carbs, for slow-release energy – wholegrain bread / wrap / pitta / roll. Or wholegrain noodles or rice, oat cakes, rice cakes….
- 1 portion protein, to help growth and keep kids fuller for longer – cheese, eggs, chicken, fish, hummus, falafel, nut butters or nuts (if allowed), seeds, roast chicken or other leftover roast meat
What to limit:
- Even though the evidence on processed meat clearly shows it is not good for us, the ham sandwich is still the most popular lunchbox option. Try to avoid getting into a ham sambo rut and instead use leftover meat like roast chicken or some other healthy protein options like cheese, eggs, fish or hummus.
- Research also shows that many kids are eating too much sugar, often disguised in supposedly healthy foods like yoghurts, cereal bars and fruit-based drinks. Avoid giving treats or limit e.g. to Fridays rather than daily. Check the labels of the foods you most regularly include in your children’s lunchboxes and swap to a healthier option if you can. If time allows, try making some healthier treats like muesli bars or banana oat cookies, ideally with your children.
Some easy, healthy lunchbox swaps that won’t break the bank
|Swap out||Replace with|
|White bread / bagel / wrap / pitta||Wholegrain bread / bagel / wrap / pitta|
|Cream crackers or bread sticks||Rice cakes, oat cakes, wholegrain crackers|
|Ham||Leftover roast chicken / tinned salmon|
|Sausage rolls||Quiche or falafel|
|Fruit yoghurt||Natural yoghurt with berries or stewed fruit|
|Breakfast or cereal bars||Homemade muesli bar / dried fruit|
|Cheese strings||Slices of cheddar|
|Crisps||Popcorn or seeds|
|Fruit shoots or juices||Water|
Think outside the (lunch)box!
- 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.
- Lunch does not need to be the classic sandwich. Instead, try a slice of quiche or falafel. During the winter, bringing warm food can be a good option e.g. veg soup (home-made or a good shop bought version), chilli, egg fried rice or other leftovers from dinner like spaghetti bolognese. If you plan this when making the dinner, you can save lots of time and effort not to mention money. Use a food flask to keep things warm and avoid leaks
- Give water to drink. Kids can easily become dehydrated, and this can affect concentration and also lead to constipation and tummy problems.
- Try to vary what you give. Think of 5 different options that your child will eat and rotate across the week. Have a look at our lunchbox handout or try some of our ideas on the plan below if you need some ideas.
A lunchbox plan for a week – adapt to what your kids like
|1. veg||Carrot sticks||Sugar snap peas||Cucumber||Sliced pepper||Cherry tomatoes|
|3. w’ grain||Wholegrain bagel||Wholegrain bread||Wholegrain wrap||Oatcakes||Wholegrain pasta|
|4. protein||Smoked salmon and cream cheese||Cheese and tomato||Tinned salmon and sweetcorn||Quiche||Bolognese or pesto and peas|
|5. extra if needed||Pumpkin seeds||Popcorn||Nut free muesli bar||hummus||Banana oat cookie|
And of course, lunchboxes are not just for kids! With many of us moving back into the office on a more regular basis, healthy lunchboxes are important for us adults too. Follow the rule of 4 above and watch out for more lunch box ideas, coming on our blog shortly.
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