Back-to-school special: How to pack a healthy lunchbox
School mornings are busy enough without daily dilemmas on what to pack in the lunchbox. So to help make mornings a little smoother, we’ve put together the five nutrition must-haves for creating healthy, balanced and tasty lunches.
1. High-fibre, wholegrain carbohydrates
Reduce the chances of sandwiches returning home untouched by keeping them interesting – and we don’t just mean the fillings! Steer clear of the usual plain white bread, since it usually goes soggy before recess. Instead, try using wraps, flat breads, grainy rolls, crackers, bagels and high fibre loaves. While it’s important to choose high fibre and wholegrain varieties, taste and texture is still important to kids.
Tip: If your kids just won’t eat anything except the white fluffy stuff, choose a white bread with added fibre.
Kids need protein in their lunch to feel satisfied, just as much as you do. Protein also helps provide a number of important essential nutrients, such as calcium, iron and magnesium. Protein-rich foods are usually low-GI too, which helps sustain energy levels through the afternoon. The best options include low-fat dairy snacks, such as cheese sticks and slices, low-fat cottage cheese tubs with fruit mixed in, yoghurt pouches (these are also great frozen), or flavoured milk poppers. In sandwiches, lean meats like chicken or turkey, tuna, salmon or lean ham are all healthy, tasty choices. Hard boiled eggs are also a great (and easy) addition to any lunchbox, either sliced into a sandwich, or still in their shell.
Tip: Boiled eggs are much more fun to eat with a hand-drawn smiley face or a brightly-coloured sticker added to the shell.
While it may not be every child’s favourite part, fruit is an essential component of a healthy lunchbox. If fruit often returns home at the end of the day, you might need to get a little creative with traditional fruit (such as cored apples cut into rings and sprinkled with lemon juice), or try adding fruit with a little more appeal. Try strawberries, raspberries, grapes or blueberries – they naturally come in sizes perfect for little mouths. They’re also bursting with flavour and colour to make them more interesting. Also, try alternating fresh fruit with dried or packaged fruits, like raspberry-flavoured sultanas or tinned pears and peaches. Just remember, fresh is best as it has fewer kilojoules and usually more fibre.
Tip: If your kids won’t eat fruit, try chopping it up and stirring it through yoghurt.
Researchers analysed the lunchboxes of Australian children and adolescents and found that the average child was receiving three packaged snack foods in their lunchbox each day. While some packaged snacks can help provide extra energy for active kids – and help boost intakes of some nutrients – sticking to just one packaged snack is ideal. Snacks that are high in fibre or whole grains, such as some muesli bars, and dairy-based snacks that are low in fat are the best choices. One positive to packaged snacks is they add a little excitement to the lunchbox, which is always important!
Tip: Follow these criteria when choosing packaged snacks: less than 600kJ; 3–5g protein; contain whole grains, calcium and/or be low-GI.
While fruit juice poppers and soft drinks are easily added to a lunchbox (and are guaranteed winners with kids) they’re just not necessary. In fact, a 2008 review of the research found that sugar-sweetened drinks – fruit juice, soft drink, sports drinks and cordials – may contribute to childhood obesity rates in three ways: larger portion sizes, increasing number of servings per bottle and higher percentage of children consuming them. Researchers suggest children drink no more than two sweetened drinks per week, including fruit juice. You guessed it – water is best!
Tip: To keep kids interested when it comes to plain water, look for a snazzy drink bottle to make drinking water more fun!