It’s that time of year again! And with it comes the annual lunchbox dilemmas. We’ve compiled the five key components to creating a healthy, balanced and tasty lunch with the help of professionals – mums.
1. Wholegrain carbohydrates
If your sandwiches continually return uneaten, it may be your choice of bread. Plain, white bread goes soggy quickly, so these sandwiches are not as appetising. Make a healthier meal by using wraps, flat breads, grainy bread rolls, crackers and high-fibre loaves. If your kids normally reject grainy breads, research shows that they’ll eat them if you introduce them gradually.
Tip: When making sandwiches, add the protein to the sandwich but keep the salad separate so they can assemble their own sandwich at school. This prevents the bread from going soggy. Maree Makelainen, QLD
Protein-rich foods provide a number of key nutrients for kids, including calcium, iron and magnesium. Recent research found that up to 84 per cent of school-aged kids are not getting the recommended daily serves of dairy. But with the range of dairy snacks available, it’s an easy fix. Cheese sticks, yoghurt tubes and flavoured long-life milk poppers are all nutritious and low-GI. You can also make sandwiches higher in protein with fillings such as tuna, lean ham, chicken, turkey, salmon or hard boiled eggs. This slows their rate of digestion, supporting energy levels.
Tip: Keep foods like meat and dairy cool by packing a small bottle of frozen water in the lunchbox. Or, check out cooler-type lunchboxes.
It’s so easy to include a piece of fruit in a lunchbox, but natural foods have been largely replaced by processed and pre-packaged snacks. According to The Medical Journal of Australia, less than half of children and adolescents consume the recommended servings of fruit (with even fewer consuming the recommended servings of veg)! If fruit is coming home because it’s bruised, stick to hard fruit like oranges, or try a small container filled with berries, grapes or melon pieces. Or alternate fresh fruit with dried varieties, although fresh is best, as it contains fewer kilojoules and more fibre.
Tip: Fruit works better when cut up or in a ‘fruit salad’ form – our kids get more excited about that than just a banana or apple. Justine Whiting, NSW
In 2005, Australian researchers found that children and adolescents consume more energy from low-nutrient, kilojoule-dense foods than any other age group, with the average child receiving three packaged snack foods in their lunchbox each day. Ideally, aim to provide just one packaged muesli or snack bar each day and try to choose wholegrain and dairy-based snacks. By providing a small amount each week, they won’t feel that they’re missing out.
Tip: Be sure to check the nutrition panel before making snack purchases. A snack should ideally meet most of the following criteria:
- be less than 600kJ
- have 3–5g of protein
- contain wholegrains, calcium or be low-GI
- have fewer than 20g of carbohydrates
While poppers are a much-loved lunchbox feature and soft drinks are guaranteed to be finished, they’re just not necessary in your child’s lunch. In fact, a 2008 review by the Journal of the American Dietetic Association suggests that sugar-sweetened drinks such as fruit juice, soft drinks, sports drinks and cordials may contribute to childhood obesity in three ways: larger portion sizes, higher percentages of children consuming them and increasing numbers of servings. They recommend kids drink no more than two sweetened drinks each week – including fruit juice.
Tip: The drink bottle is just as important as the drink inside, so let them choose their own. And try freezing it – children are more likely to drink fluids when they’re cold.
5 great reasons to create a healthy lunchbox
- Smart kids – studies have proven the link between eating a balanced diet and improved cognitive performance.
- Active kids – a healthy lunch and snacks will keep kids feeling energetic all day and avoid the afternoon slump.
- Healthy weight – eating nutritious foods, and keeping processed foods to a minimum, will help ensure kids maintain a healthy weight.
- Good habits for life – kids who eat healthily now are more likely to maintain healthy habits through adolescence and adulthood.
- Healthy bodies – a balanced diet means healthy bones, teeth, immune function and countless other health benefits.