It’s Sunday night, the kids are in bed (if you’re lucky!), you’re ready for a cup of tea and then you get that “I forgot to do the lunches” feeling.
First hurdle: What does the school class as healthy?!
Second hurdle: your kid probably has some strong ideas on what makes a good lunch!
Third hurdle: You just want to sit down right now!
Let me make your life a little easier. A balanced lunch box contains all of the five food groups(i.e., carbohydrates, protein, fruits and vegetables, dairy and healthy fats). As children grow, their nutritional needs also increase. This is where the role of a balanced lunch box comes in. A balanced lunch box can provide children the energy, protein, essential vitamins and minerals, fibre they need to optimise their growth, health, and activity. These key nutrients at lunch time will help fuel their bodies for the rest of the day to! The following lunch boxes can serve as a good model to follow when you’re making yours. Lots of foods can be used to make a packed lunch varied and tasty.
A great idea is to base your lunch box creation on carbohydrates and fibre. This provides us with the energy we use to fuel our bodies and other key nutrients such as calcium, B-vitamins, and iron.
This will also help your kid’s concentration, performance, and memory in nursery/school. Fibre enables you to keep a healthy gut and digestive system and bowel function, and also helps you feel full after lunch.
Here are some easy ideas to include carbohydrates in your lunches:
- Bread (switch it up with different types and try and choose wholegrain options)
- 50/50 breads are fortified with nutrients such as calcium and iron.
- For even more variety, you can try pitta, seeded bread, bagels, chapati, rolls, roti, and parathas!
- Change it up with potatoes, pasta, rice or couscous as well!
Protein is essential for the growth and repair of our body. You can use animal and plant sources for variety.
- Mix it up each day with a variety of meat/fish/dairy/beans/pulses/eggs/nuts (if allowed).
- Provide a dip such as cottage cheese or youghurt
3. Fruits and vegetables
This can help meet your children’s 5-A-Day or more target. Fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibre, which are essential for bodily functions and stronger immune systems. Think rainbow for lots of colour to make the lunchbox more appealing! You can also be creative by making animals or themes for lunchboxes as well!
- Add vegetables/ salad as a side or with pasta/sandwiches
- If you find it tends to go to waste, try frozen or tinned (in their own juices).
4. Dairy or dairy alternatives
Dairy products and dairy alternatives are good sources of calcium, magnesium, and zinc which are essential for building stronger bones and teeth in children. Try and use fortified and unsweetened options for dairy alternatives.
- Add Greek Yoghurt, Cream Cheese or even Babybel
- Switch it up with different types of cheeses
- Replace crisps with cheese and crackers/breadsticks
5. Healthy fats
Don’t forget to include healthy fats in your lunch box as they also help with your satiety and keep you full for longer.
- Nuts are rarely allowed in school.
- Try avocado, butter or hummus as spreads with sandwiches/rolls/wraps
- Add dressings such as pesto, olive oil to salads/pasta
It is ideal to limit the intake of crisps, sweets, biscuits, and chocolate to 1-2x a week. Foods high in sugar can be damaging to teeth, and foods high in fat can disrupt appetite and take up the daily recommended calorie intake.
- Crisps to popcorn or crisps <100kcals
- Sweets to fruit- fresh, tinned or dried!
- Fizzy drinks to flavoured or sparkling water
- Biscuits to rice cakes or crackers
Now, what are you waiting for? Have a good at making a balanced lunchbox! If you do tag us on social media @nutrition4kidsni and let us know how you get on! We love seeing families making our foods.
Want to learn more, check out our new Munchbox Lunch Boxes ebook?
Need more support?
Check out the Nutrition 4 Kids NI Mastering Fussy Eating online course or webinar workshop. Dr Kirsty can also provide one-to-one consultations to establish effective personalised strategies for you and your child. More information about all of these services is available on the website.
Written by Dr Kirsty Porter