This week sees the return to school and for some parents, it’s the first time they will be providing a packed lunch. What to put in the lunchbox is an ongoing dilemma. It needs to strike the right balance between being enjoyable and healthy. If your child doesn’t enjoy it, they won’t eat it, but it should also contain enough energy and nutrients to keep your child on top form for the afternoon session.
Variety is key. If your child is a fussy eater or you are short on time, it may be tempting to give them the same lunch every day. Try to avoid the temptation. Eating a wide variety of foods gives everyone the best chance of meeting their nutrient requirements. There is also growing evidence that it could help prevent obesity (Spector,The Diet Myth 2015). Lunch should provide one third of a child’s calorie intake for the day and one third of their required vitamins and minerals. This is much easier than it may sound!
So, for the basics. Every child’s lunch should contain some protein, carbohydrates, vegetables and fruit. The protein and carbs are the most important as they provide energy for growing bodies and enable children to concentrate. Try to avoid giving white bread if possible. Wholegrain breads have more fibre and more B vitamins, which provides more energy, helps keep children full for longer and avoids the post-lunch blood sugar crash.
Here are a few suggestions for a healthy and tasty lunchbox:
- Cucumber, pepper and/or carrot sticks with a tiny pot of hummous (try re-using takeaway sauce containers). Serve with a wholemeal pita bread
- Wholegrain crackers eg. Ryvita with cottage cheese or slices of Cheddar, cucumber and tomatoes. Children need calcium and cheese is a great source.
- Pasta salad – flaked tuna or ham with peppers, tomatoes, sweetcorn and olives mixed through cooked pasta with pesto sauce (see recipe)
- Leftovers – invest in a food flask, so you can heat last night’s casserole, chilli or spaghetti bolognese
- Wholemeal wrap with chicken, avocado and grated carrot or cucumber
- Cooked chicken drumstick or leftover chicken with salad and bread
- Rice salad leftovers (see recipe)
- The humble sandwich. Use wholemeal or granary bread, some meat or cheese and salad and you’ve covered all requirements!
- Yoghurt – natural, full-fat varieties are the best choice as it is much lower in sugar than fruit yoghurts. Add a little honey to sweeten and throw in a few berries.
- Homemade oat and sultana biscuits or nut-free muesli bar (see recipe)