Back to school marks a new beginning so take it as an opportunity to encourage a healthy lifestyle and good eating habits, no matter how old your child is.
Not only is good nutrition essential for growth and development, but it also helps keep children fueled and focused during the school day. If you are unsure what to pack, here are some tips on how to build a balanced lunchbox for your little one.
Know the basics
Include a wide variety of food from core food groups such as fruit and vegetables, protein, dairy or calcium-rich foods and grains. Half a child’s lunch box should be filled with colourful fruits or vegetables, one quarter with healthy proteins and the remaining quarter with whole grains. And if desired a small piece of cheese or sugar-free yoghurt can be added for dairy.
- Choose one fruit: apple slices, halved grapes, berries of any kind, melon, banana or a peeled orange.
- Choose one vegetable: sliced cucumber, bell pepper strips, cooked or uncooked carrot batons or vine tomatoes.
- Choose one grain: bread of any kind, whole grain rice or pasta, crackers or even dry cereal to snack on.
- Choose one healthy protein: chicken slices, roast turkey, a hard-boiled egg halved, peanut butter, hummus or tuna.
Keep it interesting
Nobody wants to eat the same thing day in day out. Try to offer different foods every day. Vary the type of bread from pitta bread, bagels, soft rolls and tortilla wraps. Swap and change fruits and vegetables throughout the week or cut them differently. You can slice, spiralise or use shape cutters on lots of different foods. Alternatively use leftover rice and pasta from dinner.
Avoid processed food
While processed food such as biscuits, chocolate and cakes can be eaten as part of a healthy and balanced diet in moderation, they don’t have a place inside the lunchbox. Try to make your child’s lunch the night before. Leaving the lunches until the last minute can increase your chances of filling their lunchbox with convenience foods.
Just because schools don’t allow sweets, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a little treat every once and awhile. Be creative and add a small yoghurt covered rice cake, popcorn, protein balls, sugar-free jam with crackers or plain biscuits, banana bread or dark chocolate covered strawberries.
Tailor lunches to the time of year
Variety is key to reducing boredom and lack of interest in food. Shake things up from time to time and use thermos food flasks for soup with homemade brown bread on cold or wet days or rustle up a pasta salad during warmer months.
Make it look appetising
If someone handed you a plate of food that is all mashed up together in a crumby, chances are you won’t eat it. Invest in a sturdy, reliable and leak-proof bento-style lunchbox with different sized compartments. This way, food is all separated and looks way more appealing to children.
Children should drink at least 5-6 cups of fluids a day. Instil good drinking habits by offering water at mealtimes and investing in a stainless steel water bottle that is built to last. Plastic beakers don’t tend to last from one semester to the other. Remember the old saying, buy cheap, buy twice.