It’s that time of year again; the beginning of a new school year. While having the children back in school may be a welcome break for many, for parents of picky eaters just the thought of packing lunch kits brings feelings of dread. Most parents want to make sure their children eat a healthy meal so that they have what they need to grow and concentrate at school but it is so frustrating when your healthy meal comes home untouched only to be thrown out at the end of the day.
Of course there are foods/snacks which you know your children will eat, but usually, these are not the most nutritious. Here are some tips for preparing a lunch kit that pleases their taste buds and meets their nutritional needs.
Keep a balanced plate in mind
Children, as well as adults, need to eat a wide range of nutrients for their optimal health and the best way to get this is to eat a balanced meal, which includes:
Fruit and vegetables
Ideally, your children should eat five servings (about the size of their fist) of fruit and vegetables a day, and locally-grown options are best. If they are not there yet, during this term, try to get at least one extra serving in (of each). Few children will opt for fruit or vegetables when they also have packaged snacks in their lunch kit, so be mindful of the options you provide. On the weekends, experiment with new fruits and vegetables as well as different methods of preparation to add variety.
For example, you can make pineapple or cucumber chow, applesauce or frozen grapes to change textures and flavours. You can also experiment with different dressings for vegetables: hummus or ranch dressing for carrot sticks or broccoli florets.
Carbohydrates are a great source of energy for the body. When you choose complex carbohydrates such as provisions, whole wheat bread and brown rice, they provide a more sustained source of energy throughout the course of the day. The carbohydrates children are most accustomed to are simple carbohydrates, which lack fibre and are often stripped of nutrients so it may take some time for them to acquire the taste of whole grains. It helps to make the transition slowly, for example, making a sandwich with one slice white bread and one slice of whole wheat or multigrain bread. Other ways to get the complex carbohydrates in is through homemade baked goods such as oat muffins.
Protein is not only vital for children’s growth and strong muscles, but also for healthy brains. There are many ways to get protein in your children’s lunch kits for example boiled eggs, turkey or tuna sandwiches, chicken drumsticks and ground beef with spaghetti. Even if your child does not eat meat, you can also explore some vegetarian sources such as dhal, lentils or hummus.
A healthy brain also needs healthy fat. If your children like avocado, now that they are in season it is the perfect option. Nuts and nut butters are a great source of healthy fat for children, however, this may not be allowed at your children’s schools due to allergy concerns. If they are not getting these healthy fats in their lunch kits, ensure that they get them otherwise in the day.
Meal plan and prep in advance
To ensure that your children’s lunch kits contain all of the elements of a balanced meal consistently, it is best to plan the meals in advance. Planning with your children is a great way of getting their input into what they will prefer and also to educate them on the importance of nutrition. Whenever you can, use the weekends to prep meals and make healthy “treats” for their lunch kits such as channa flour pancakes or banana oat bread. This is a great activity to do with the children that teaches them essential life skills and the importance of choosing the right foods for their growing bodies.
Pack lots of water
Especially with the heat these days, it is important to make sure your children stay hydrated. When children are dehydrated they may be low on energy, get irritable and have difficulty focusing, so ensure that their lunch kits are fully stocked with water. While your child may prefer to drink juice, this is not the best way to hydrate as such drinks often contain a lot of sugar, without the benefit of the fibre contained in the whole fruit.
The new school year is a great opportunity to bring new things to their lunch kits. Try to avoid packaged snacks as far as possible and include homemade items instead. If you do include packaged snacks, be sure to read their labels and avoid products with too many ingredients that you cannot pronounce, high levels of added sugar and salt and artificial colours and flavours.
Have a healthy new school year!