Lunch boxes can be a real chore. Registered dietician Julie Perks helps you to put together lunchtime treats that are healthy, tasty and nutritious. Lunch boxes can sometimes be a task dreaded by many parents. It can be stressful knowing what your child needs but not being sure how to implement successfully.
As children grow and develop we need to expose them to new foods and meal options to widen their nutritional intake.
When they first start school you are often given a list of lunch box dos and don’ts when it comes to lunch boxes. This might seem restrictive, but the link between healthy nutrition and concentration at school is very strong. Therefore, everyone benefits by your child having a healthy lunch box.
Homemade foods are preferable to your child choosing foods at a tuck shop, although many tuck shops do offer many healthy alternatives now. When a child is very young, though, they are unlikely to make the best decision, so I would recommend saving tuck money for when a child is old enough to make a healthy choice on their own or, at least, will listen to your advice.
For younger children, packing a healthy lunch needs to both provide enough nutrition to assist with their growth and development, as well as keeping their energy levels sustained through a day of learning and sometimes even for extra-mural activities.
To assist in making lunch boxes a little less stressful, I would advise involving your children in the decision-making, while guiding them through the following principles:
- Something from each food group should be represented – a starch, a protein and healthy fats, as well as vegetables and/or fruits. You can also consider something fun to add.
- They will also need something to drink. Water remains the recommended drink. Children should never be given fizzy drinks, as they are far too high in sugar. This also includes some iced teas and other juices. Often fruit juice can also be high in sugar – so if you do choose to give fruit juice, a 125ml serving of 100% fruit juice is equivalent to one fruit serving, so add in 125ml of water to make it a suitable beverage. If you are able to keep the lunch box cold you can also consider adding in a dairy drink like milk, or even a smoothie.
Some children prefer to eat the same foods every day and derive great comfort in the continuity of it. As long as their preferred meal meets the “balanced” approach, do not stress that they are getting bored. I would just recommend to keep checking in to see if they require any changes but for the most part, do not stress.
Other children, on the other hand, love variety in their lunch boxes and this can be quite stressful to consider new and interesting combinations. I have included a sample lunch box meal plan to give you some ideas.
You may wish to also include your children in the meal preparation process and get their input. Especially as children get older they will enjoy being included in the decision-making. Your role as the parent will be to guide their choices and discuss with them why certain foods are necessary and why others cannot be enjoyed in excess.
When including a healthy treat for children, you can consider including any of the following options. They allow children to learn how to include treats into a balanced diet while still being healthier than certain store-bought (or tuck shop) options:
- Homemade veggie chips – made in the oven
- Fruit and nut mix (add in some chocolate chips for a real treat)
- Energy balls (be careful of ones high in energy – mostly nut-based ones)
- Low GI biscuits
- Homemade popcorn
- Lean biltong
- Homemade bran muffin
- Healthy loaf cake loaded with fruit and nuts and/or seeds
|Break 1||Tortilla wrap filled with hummus, veggies and chicken/soya strips||2 slices low GI bread filled with tuna mayo, and a small container of chopped veggies – baby tomatoes, carrots, cucumber wedges, peppers, etc.||Chickpea salad – made using tinned or dried chickpeas, some feta, peppers, red onion, cooked beetroot and roast butternut. Add in dhania/ coriander leaves or mixed herbs. Use an olive oil dressing with vinegar and mustard.||Brown whole-wheat rolls filled with lean burger patty (veg/chicken/ beef/ lamb mince).
Alternatively, make chicken mince meat balls and serve with roll and some chopped vegetables.
|Pasta salad made using whole-wheat pasta, baked beans, chopped veggies and either tuna/leftover chicken pieces and some lettuce/ spinach or rocket.|
|Break 2||Yoghurt, a homemade bran muffin and a fruit.||Whole-wheat crackers and some hummus/ sugar-free peanut butter and a fruit.||A fruit kebab (or whole fruit) and some fruit and nut mix.||One energy ball and a fruit.||A wedge of lower fat cheese, some homemade veggie chips and lean biltong.|
If you are ever in doubt regarding your child’s nutritional intake, growth or if your child has special nutritional requirements (e.g. allergies) – speak with a registered dietician. To find one in your area, visit www.adsa.org.za.