Here are some tips to creating healthy school lunches, to streamline your morning routine and minimise the fuss.
1. Start with the main event
This part of the meal should include a healthy slow release carbohydrate, such as wholegrain bread or wrap, pasta, brown rice or quinoa; these will fuel their brains and provide the energy to exercise. It should also include a protein-rich food such as cold meat, fish, hard boiled egg, cheese, tofu or beans/chickpeas will provide amino acids for growth and development; as well as a healthy fat (e.g. avocado, hummus, olive oil, oily fish, tahini or olive oil mayo). If you can manage to get a few vegies in there too, then that’s great, but don’t stress over it – my kids will not eat their sandwich if it has salad in it, but they do eat their vegies at night, and they will eat carrot sticks with hummus dip, so just think of the big picture, rather than what they eat in one part of one meal.
Some lunchbox ideas include:
wholegrain sandwich with ham off the bone, cheese, cucumber and avocado
wholegrain wrap with leftover roast chicken, hummus and shredded lettuce
wholegrain wrap with shredded chicken mixed with grated apple & a little olive oil mayo
brown rice salad with canned tuna, corn, diced capsicum and olive oil vinaigrette
quinoa with chickpeas, diced cucumber, cherry tomatoes, sultanas & olive oil vinaigrette
wholegrain wrap with felafel, hummus and shredded lettuce
pasta with parmesan, canned tuna and beans, drizzled with olive oil
wholegrain sandwich with egg mayo
potato salad with hard boiled eggs, canned tuna, olives and peas.
2. Add one or two pieces of fruit
Packaged products, even if they claim to be made from 100 per cent fruit, are not the same as fresh whole fruit. You can buy excellent holders for bananas to stop them from becoming a bashed soggy mess in the lunchbox, or chop up an apple into slices and seal in a zip lock bag (squeezing out the air helps to stop it going brown, or squeeze a little orange juice over them), fill a small container with grapes, cherries or berries, or pop in an easy peel orange. Next best are the ready packs of fruit. The processing will result in the some nutrient loss, but at least the fruit is still whole and they are convenient. View these “100 per cent fruit” products as healthier alternatives to lollies and, as such, keep them for treats rather than everyday foods.
3. Include a dairy food or a dairy alternative with added calcium
Kids have a high requirement for this mineral and many are falling short. Dairy foods are one of the best sources, so unless your child has an intolerance or allergy, include them in their lunchboxes. I freeze drinking yoghurts so they help to keep the lunchbox cool, but are defrosted enough to drink by lunchtime. Or I pop in a carton of yoghurt, a mini cheese such as Babybel or simply a chunk of cheese with the sliced apple.
4. Add a snack for recess
I give my boys little bags of popcorn, carrot sticks with a mini tub of hummus, a homemade fruit or savoury muffin (if I’ve been organised on the weekend to bake them), a small slice of banana bread (beware of the portion size of store-bought banana bread – it’s huge!), or a carefully chosen cereal bar (look for wholegrain, low added refined sugar and a natural list of ingredients).
5. Include water in a BPA-free bottle
I never give my kids juice to take to school (in fact, they rarely drink juice at all) and since all the kids take water to school, then no one feels they are missing out.
It’s fine for kids to have a few sweet foods or other ‘treats’ now and then, but they don’t need to have them at school. Save those foods for after they are home, or on the weekends.
Good food ensures kids (and adults) can concentrate and have energy for the entire day. And if we instill healthy eating habits in our kids early on, then we are setting them up for a bright and healthy future.
To learn more about the author of this article, Dr Joanna, click here
Disclaimer: This article provides general advice only. Readers should seek independent professional advice from their general practitioner or dietitian in relation to their own individual circumstances or condition before making any decisions based on the information in this article.