It may come as little surprise to learn that according to recent research in Ireland that the most popular items in a lunchbox are a sliced white bread sandwich with a filling of ham, cheese or chicken; crisps, a chocolate bar or biscuit; and a yoghurt or cheese snack.
While, there’s nothing wrong with any of these foods on an occasional basis, if a child eats them every day, they will not get the range of nutrients they need for good health and energy. As a child gets older they can develop tendencies for sugar and savoury cravings leading to morning jaunts to the local sweet shop before school starts. Let’s prevent this.
The key to a healthy packed lunch is nutritional balance and a wide variety of foods.
Fruit and Vegetables:
Mixed Fruit Salad, Fruit Compote, Puréed Fruit, chopped, sliced and so on. Mini packs of dried fruits with no additives (sulphur is used to make apricots orange for presentation purposes) or no added sugar. Read your labels. Shop in your nearest local independent health store. Better still make your own dried fruit mix with your children and use dried coconut and seeds, which add vital minerals. Fresh fruit smoothie with milk alternatives such as coconut or oat will keep for a school day when made fresh in the morning. Use frozen berries with banana and some grounded flaxseed. Children often prefer raw vegetables to cooked: try cherry tomatoes or sticks of carrot, cucumber and pepper are popular, slices of fennel have a liquorice flavour, florets of broccoli and cauliflower, fresh peas, whole mange touts, sugar snap peas, baby corn. Green beans, beetroot and asparagus are best cooked for the lunchbox.
It is important to provide good sources of calcium as about half of adult bone density is laid down during adolescence. Along with absorption from magnesium which can be found in seeds and greens. Calcium can be found in greens and grains as well as dairy products remember. Stay away from processed cheese. Buy local farmhouse cheese or organic for your child. These types of cheeses can be found in your local independent health store, you just need to look and don’t be lazy. Goats or Sheep’s are excellent, high in protein and low fat. All lovely with organic oatcakes or rice cakes.
Protein foods are fantastic for staying away from hunger pains and they work together with carbohydrate foods to create energy for your child.
This also helps to boost concentration, memory and attention span. Good examples are lean cooked free range or local chicken, turkey or beef; cooked fish and prawns; cooked eggs; seeds, seed butters, pulses and hummus, vegetarian sausages and nut cutlets; tofu.
Omega 3 has also been shown to improve mood and benefit those with dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
t is found in oily fish such as herring, salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines and tuna, which all make great sandwich fillings especially blended with a little crème fraiche, pates, savoury dishes and salads.
Whole grains are the body’s main source of long term energy and should be at the heart of every lunchbox. Try and stay away from the sliced pans as they have no wholegrain and are just water and sugar. Try Granary, Rye or Spelt bread for a change. Try Whole wheat baps, rolls, wraps or pittas.
Children need to drink more fluids at school. Dehydration can affect concentration and intellectual performance as well as transportation of fluids around the body. Provide bottled water, diluted fresh fruit or vegetable juice, fresh fruit smoothie or milk or non alternative. Ideally, lunchboxes should be appealing and inviting, never boring. And remember it’s about quality not quantity. Portion control as always is very important too. Remember the food you prepare for your young child is not for you.