Lunchtime is a great place to start when making sure your children are meeting their nutritional requirements and establishing healthy habits. Good food habits set early in childhood can last a lifetime. With lunches providing around one-third of our daily nutritional needs, it’s important to put some thought and planning into them.
For some, a healthy lunchbox that children will actually enjoy can be a challenge to achieve, but working together and talking about what the body needs might help. Get kids involved with making lunches. Let them know they need one protein, one carbohydrate and at least 2 colours to have a balanced lunchbox. Keep away from what they shouldn’t have and focus more on why they need the different nutrients to grow, run, play and learn!
To keep you on track, try to always incorporate:
- Carbohydrates (e.g. wholegrain/wholemeal bread, bagel, pasta, crackers, rice, couscous, wrap). If your child doesn’t like brown bread, that’s okay. Often, there can be tastes that we develop as we get older, so work with what they enjoy. What is most important is that your child has carbohydrates to help fuel the body.
- Healthy proteins (e.g. turkey, chicken, tuna, smoked salmon, hard-boiled eggs, cheese). We need protein for muscle and growth.
- At least two portions of fruits/vegetables (e.g. an apple, banana, orange, berries, kiwi, peppers, tomatoes, small salad). Aim for two colours in the lunchbox daily to help them reach their 5/day.
- Calcium-rich snack (yoghurt and cheese are great options here). Need to look after those growing bones!
And another healthy snack (e.g. rice cakes, wholegrain crackers/breadsticks with hummus, healthy bar options, nuts if allowed).
10 simple tips to help establish healthy habits:
- Keep it interesting by introducing variety throughout the week, adding a range of tastes and presentations of food. Be careful though: you know your child best. If you are incorporating food or a taste for the first time, it might be a good idea to try it at home first. It is important that the lunchbox is healthy, but your child must also enjoy it so that they don’t come home hungry, having had none of their lunch.
- Cook extra rice/pasta in the evening—these can make interesting salads.
- Get your child involved in planning and preparing their school lunches. This will help encourage responsibility and an interest in what they eat. It could also be a great educational opportunity.
- Plan ahead! School days can be busy, so set aside some extra time during the weekend to get organised for the week. Stock up on healthy ingredients that will last, keep wholemeal bread in the freezer and make sure there is plenty of fruit in the house.
- Be ‘treat’ savvy; find something sweet that your child likes that is also preferably on the healthier side and lower in sugar (try homemade flapjacks, plain biscuits, dried fruits etc.). Some schools have banned treats from lunchboxes altogether in a health promotion bid, in which case, you could use nature’s candy…fruit!
- Fluids are important for children. Milk and water are the best options. Brightly coloured drink bottles with straws (chosen by the kids, if possible) can make rehydrating more exciting. Add ice to water bottles in the morning to keep drinks cool.
- If your mornings are hectic, why not make your child’s lunch the night before? Keep it in the fridge overnight.
- An insulated box or bag can be used to help keep lunches cool. A small ice pack can also be used or, alternatively, include a frozen fruit juice carton.
- Discard any perishable food that hasn’t been eaten at the end of the day.
- Wash and dry reusable water bottles, lids and lunchboxes every day in warm soapy water.