Lunchtime is an opportunity to give your kids an energy-boosting healthy meal that will keep them going until they get home.
But the nutritional value of food not eaten is nil, so it pays to invest some time into choosing tasty healthy foods that will sustain your child during the afternoon.
It’s not easy to go supermarket shopping with a child, but involving your children in shopping and planning their meals can help to spark an interest in food. Perhaps encourage them to help you choose a variety of breads (like wholegrain, granary, or white breads enriched with fibre or seeds) and fillings (such as egg, low fat soft cheese, fresh turkey or chicken breast slices, canned tuna or salmon). Make the most of the juicy and colourful fruits around too. You could pop a few seedless grapes or a chunk of cucumber into their lunch box, or add some sweetcorn to a tuna sandwich filling. Taking a little time to plan and prepare could help your child focus at school and be less tired at the end of the day.
What to pack
Your child's school may operate a packed lunch policy. This will help you to choose foods that are in line with healthy eating. You might find they ban food such as crisps, chocolate, sweets and sugary fizzy drinks. It's so much easier when all the children are avoiding these unhealthy items, so peer pressure can work positively.
Think about the 5 food groups to make sure that you are including a range of balanced options:
1. Bread, rice, potatoes and pasta. Around a third of the calories in the lunchbox should come from these starchy carbohydrates.
2. Fruit and vegetables. One portion is roughly the amount they can fit into the palm of their hands, for example a small apple or pear, a handful of grapes or berries.
3. Milk and dairy foods. Dairy foods provide calcium, which is especially important for children because it helps them to grow strong bones. Choose lower fat varieties to help cut down on saturated fats.
4. Meat, fish, eggs and beans. These protein providers need to be eaten at every meal. Try the spicy baked beans recipe, which can be eaten hot or cold.
5. Foods high in fat and sugar. Although tasty, these foods generally offer very little nutritional value. Try a slice of fruit bread, scone or malt loaf.
Make sure that you get a good mix of the 4 main food groups. Also try to get variety in terms of bread, fillings, fruits and dairy foods. More variety generally means more nutrients, and more tastes and textures.
Could you eat sandwiches day in day out? Try different options for your child’s lunchbox, such as tortilla wraps, pitta bread, soft grain white, seeded bread, and crusty rolls. Try to choose high-fibre options a few times a week. Make a change from sandwiches by offering pasta or brown rice salad. You could throw in some shredded chicken, tuna and crunchy grated carrots or green beans.
Use less butter or spread in sandwiches. Try low-fat soft cheese, light mayonnaise or even smooth peanut butter as an alternative spread.
Go for healthier fillings like lean turkey, chicken, tuna, canned salmon, Edam slices, or peanut butter with banana. Throw some sweetcorn into the tuna and add texture and colour to sandwiches by mixing in some crispy fresh salad. Also include easy-to-eat veggies like cherry tomatoes, carrot, cucumber and pepper sticks. Or try a Spanish omelette made from sliced potato, sweetcorn and colourful vegetables. Carbs, protein and veg all rolled into one!
Add a couple of portions of fruit like grapes, satsumas, strawberries and raisins. Or mix together some chopped grapes, banana, apple and blueberries for a yummy fruit salad. Try creamed rice pudding, fruit yogurt or fromage frais to make a change from fruit.
Swap sugar-rich fizzy drinks for water, milk or a small carton of unsweetened fruit juice or milkshake. In winter months, you could try a small flask of home-made soup.
By Azmina Govindji RD MBDA, Consultant Nutritionist & Registered Dietitian