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Aveen Bannon

Back to school time already? Over the summer holidays, structure generally goes out the window, and getting back into a routine can be tricky! A great place to start is by making sure your children are meeting their nutritional requirements and forming new, healthy habits for the year. 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.

A healthy lunchbox that children will actually enjoy can be a challenge to achieve for some. 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.

To keep you on track, try to always incorporate:

  • Wholegrain carbohydrates (e.g. wholegrain/wholewheat bread, pasta, rice, couscous, wrap)
  • Healthy proteins (e.g. turkey, chicken, tuna, smoked salmon, hard-boiled eggs, cheese)
  • At least two portions of fruits/vegetables (e.g. an apple, banana, orange, berries, kiwi, peppers, tomatoes, small salad)
  • Dairy snack (yoghurt and cheese are great options here)
  • And another healthy snack (e.g. rice cakes, wholegrain crackers/breadsticks with hummus, healthy bar options, nuts if allowed)

Here are 10 simple tips to help start the year off right!

  • Don’t make the same cheese sandwich every day; it will get boring! 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. One idea is, if you are incorporating a food or a taste for the first time, 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 so 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 natures candy—fruit!
  • Fluids are important for children; 8 cups of fluid should be encouraged daily. 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.