With the start of another school year upon us, parents are preparing themselves for the routine task of making school lunches. And did you know that over a school year, parents will pack approximately 200 lunch boxes per child!! The lunch box dilemma begins.
With a third of a child’s total daily food intake being consumed at school, it is important that what you include in your child’s lunch box provides all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals needed for energy, growth and learning. After all, packing a healthy lunchbox every day is one of the most important things you can do to help support your child’s energy levels, behaviour, focus, and ability to learn. No pressure, right?
We all know that school mornings are usually a busy, often chaotic, time in many families and and often it’s easier to resort to prepackaged, processed items as a way of saving time. However most of these foods are filled with excess sugars and lack optimum nutrients. Research has showed that the vast majority of children are eating far too few vegetables, and over 90% of children have energy-dense, micronutrient-poor snacks (‘junk food’) in their lunch boxes (National Health Survey: First Results, 2014-15) and unfortunately one in four children aged 2 to 16 are now classified as overweight or obese.
But keeping a balance between the nutritional needs of growing children and offering them foods they will actually eat and not return home can be challenging and overwhelming even for the most organised parents.
As a mum myself, I understand the struggle of packing a healthy lunch box that ticks all of the boxes.
Top 5 Tips for Packing a Healthy Lunch Box
Here are some simple strategies to banish school lunch burnout and help make healthy lunch boxes easy. After all, healthy kids are happy kids.
- Plan and Prepare- Think about what you are going to pack for lunches the night before, or even better, plan for the whole week. If you do little bits of prep throughout the week, you’ll be ready to assemble lunch in no time and you will find it will be far less stressful and time consuming.
- Avoid spiking blood sugar levels – Fat, protein and fibre slow down digestion and will keep your child feeling full, whereas sugar and starch digest more quickly and have the opposite effect. Therefore aim to provide:
- Complex carbohydrates for energy such as brown rice, quinoa, legumes, sweet potato and fruit
- Protein to keep your child full and maintain concentration levels such as chicken, fish, eggs, meats, or legumes
- Healthy fats for brain food such as avocado, egg yolk, tahini used in hummus, olive oil
- Avoid processed and refined foods – these are usually high in sugars and preservatives many of which have adverse effects on behaviour.
- Reduce sugar – too much can greatly affect children’s behaviour and concentration, which ultimately affects how well they learn. Watch out for hidden sugars in muesli bars, muffins, biscuits and even flavoured yoghurt. Avoid soft drinks juice poppers and flavoured milk. Good old water is the best way to hydrate them — infuse them with different fruits overnight to pack them with natural flavours.
- Get creative – Make food visually fun for your kids. Cut fruit or sandwiches into shapes with cookie cutters, use kebab sticks with chicken and vegetables, or dips topped with funny faces using berries or pumpkin seeds.
A Snapshot of Lunch Box Inspiration
As an example, here is one of my 3 year old sons favourite lunch boxes:
- Wrap with organic chicken with avocado, tomato, cheese and shredded carrot
- Plain corn chips with hummus
- Fresh berries (when in season) or fruit skewers
- Rice cake with nut butter
- Bottle of water
Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results – Foods And Nutrients, 2011-12. Abs.gov.au. N.p., 2017. Web. 21 Jan. 2017.
National Health Survey: First Results, 2014-15. Abs.gov.au. N.p., 2017.http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4364.0.55.001?OpenDocument
Sanigorski AM, et al. “Lunchbox Contents Of Australian School Children: Room For Improvement. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2017.