It's back to school time! Follow these expert tips to help you pack a healthy lunch for your children and ensure they get all the energy they need.
With a third of our children’s daily food intake consumed at school, it’s critical we are packing a lunch box containing the right kind and quantity of food to meet nutrient requirements for energy and growth.
Recess and lunch provide a ‘pit stop’ for kids to refuel their energy levels. Balancing the nutritional needs of kids and teenagers while offering food that they actually like to eat can be challenging.
Accredited Practising Dietitian, Spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) and mother of two, Kate Di Prima, provides lunch box tips and five-day meal plans to help parents pack a healthier lunch to keep kids well-nourished throughout the school day.
A healthy and inviting lunch box, including a variety of foods from the different food groups, requires planning and imagination.
Include at least one serve from each food group in the lunch box + water:
• Protein nutrient-rich foods – beef, lamb, poultry, fish, eggs or legumes
• Fruit – a variety of fresh, canned or dried
• Dairy or soy – cheese, milk or yoghurt
• Vegetables – a variety of different coloured vegetables
• Grain-based food – wholegrain bread, crackers, rice, pasta, noodles or couscous
• Plus Water – it’s the only drink kids need
TOOLS FOR A HEALTHY LUNCH BOX
Foods such as beef, lamb, poultry, fish, eggs and legumes are the building blocks of our bodies. These foods help keep kids full and are packed with nutrients - making it easy to meet nutrient requirements for health.
Low levels of iron and zinc can contribute to tiredness, difficulty in concentrating and impaired immunity. Red meat such as beef and lamb is the number one source of bioavailable iron in the Australian diet and can easily be incorporated into the school lunch. Leftovers are perfect for this!
• Cooked roast beef and lamb or steak can be stored in the fridge for up to three days. Once cooled, slice leftover roast or steak immediately and trim any visible fat
• Cooked mince or casserole dishes can be stored in the fridge for up to two to three days
• Savoury mince, rissoles and bolognaise-style sauce make great sandwich or wrap fillings. Add a little cheese, avocado and salsa for a Mexican-style tortilla wrap
Fresh and seasonal
Fresh fruit and vegetables provide a host of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre, which are essential for good health.
• Freeze fruits in the summer or for sport days. Simply pop the frozen fruit into a small sealable plastic bag or an airtight container
• Kids may be more likely to eat cut-up fresh fruit and vegetable sticks such as carrots and celery. Fruit salad is the ideal lunch box solution as it is colourful, easy to eat and bursting with nutrients
• Make salads or salad sandwich fillings interesting by using a range of vegetables like grated carrot, snow pea sprouts, lettuce, rocket / baby spinach, celery, tomatoes, avocado and cucumber
Grains for energy
Grain-based foods such as breads, crackers, rice and pasta are important sources of carbohydrate that provide fuel for energy. Wholegrain breads and cereals are also great sources of fibre and tend to be lower in glycaemic index (or GI) which helps sustain energy levels for longer.
• Include a variety of breads such as lavash, pita, Lebanese as well as rice or corn cakes
• Pack an extra sandwich for hungry teenagers to help refuel for afternoon activities
• Build a salad based on pasta, rice or couscous, mix in a range of fresh seasonal vegetables and finish off with some strips of lean lamb or beef to make nature’s power pack of nutrients perfect for the lunchbox
Bone-up on calcium
Calcium is especially important during childhood and adolescence for building strong bones and healthy teeth for life. Calcium requirements are the greatest during growth, particularly during puberty.
• Pack reduced-fat cheese cubes with crackers or vegetable sticks for recess
• Chilled tetra-packs of reduced-fat flavoured milks can help keep lunchboxes cool (pack frozen in summer). Calcium-enriched soy drinks are a great alternative to milk
• Tubs of reduced-fat yoghurt or custard can be frozen or packed chilled and are perfect for recess
Plenty of water
Water should be the drink of choice. Freeze water bottles the night before on hot summer days and ask children to replenish from the bubbler at school for the trip home.
Keep it fresh
It is important to keep food in the lunch box cold to inhibit the growth of bacteria. Use an insulated lunch box and include a small freezer brick or freeze a bottle of water. Foods and drinks that are kept cool will be safe as well as more tasty and appealing.