Keeping ourselves healthy can be difficult at the best of times. Throw in a few tiny hands and feet, and mealtime can become a real task. The mighty lunch box can be overwhelming especially when food safety, nutritional adequacy and a child’s food preferences need to be considered. Sanigorski A BA, Kremer P, Swinburn B. Lunchbox contents of Australian school children: room for improvement. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2005 However, food doesn’t have to be complicated. As the 2016 school year rolls around, parents can be more prepared than ever to navigate the super stressful, super processed, superfood world.
Despite a lunch box typically consisting of high salt and sugary foods, a good way to plan what goes into each box daily is to choose from the five main food groups and ensure lunch provides a third of the energy and nutrient requirements for that child, each day.SanigorskiA BA, Kremer P, Swinburn B. Lunchbox contents of Australian school children: room for improvement. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2005 Watson WL, Kury A, Wellard L, Hughes C, Dunford E, Chapman K. Variations in serving sizes of Australian snack foods and confectionary. Appetite. 2016;96:32-7 Afterall, kids are running around, socialising, learning and growing at an incredibly rapid rate.
Clare Kreis, APD and paediatric dietitian, suggests that parents should aim for a variety of foods from the five food groups, with an emphasis of the child’s preferences. “It’s unlikely that they are going to eat vegemite and cheese sandwiches if they dislike vegemite,” she says.
But with 70% of snacks on the shelves typically being of a discretionary nature, choosing the right snack can be exhausting. SanigorskiA BA, Kremer P, Swinburn B. Lunchbox contents of Australian school children: room for improvement. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2005 Watson WL, Kury A, Wellard L, Hughes C, Dunford E, Chapman K. Variations in serving sizes of Australian snack foods and confectionary. Appetite. 2016;96:32-7 Kreis suggests trying to avoid packaged snacks as these are typically foods high in fat and sugar with limited vitamins and minerals.
“Stick to the outside aisles [at the supermarket] – fruit and veg, fresh hams and chicken from the deli, unsalted variety of nuts from the self-dispensers, breads and wraps from the bakery and yoghurt and cheese from the dairy produce”.
Considering that kids often come home nagging for the latest toy or snack to show off at school, it is no surprise that discretionary choices often get placed in the shopping trolley. In this case and when packaged snacks are on the list, try to look past the clever and colourful marketing techniques. Instead, make an informed choice. Turn the package over and check the ingredients list. What are the first three ingredients listed? Kreis recommends purchasing an alternative product if fat, sugar, and/or salt make the top three.
Children can often be fussy, slow and messy eaters. Parents are also often concerned about the child’s limited intake and have limited time to prepare healthy and fun snacks. But all parents can do, is do their best.
So, with the school year about to commence, below are some essential steps to get parents started. Healthy food doesn’t have to be boring or complicated; it simply has to be real food. Real food is fun, colourful and nutritious, all at the same time.
Choose foods from the five main food groups each day – grains, fruit, vegetables, meat and legumes and dairy.
Include a piece of fruit on lunch menu (click here for a seasonal guide).
Choose whole grain breads instead of white. The grain of the outside that is usually removed in white bread contains a whole host of nutrient goodies such as folate and B vitamins. B-group vitamins help energy to be released into the body.
Finger food is also a fun way to encourage healthy eating. It is also easier for the younger ones and reduces the amount of packaging.
Purchase a reusable water bottle. Freezing the water the night before will ensure it stays drinkable throughout the day and will keep that lunch box cool and fresh.
Wash and try vegetables to avoid wet soggy bread.
Pack lunch the night before. This is an easy way to prevent the early morning school rush. Just don’t forget the lunch box in the fridge!
The fun stuff
Encourage curiosity. Often children avoid trying new things and new foods because they are unsure of the taste. Typically, it is even harder to convince them to taste an unfamiliar food. Interestingly, a parent must try the food first to show that the food is safe – it’s an instinct thing!
Get your children involved by letting them explore the kitchen and help you make tomorrow’s lunch. They will intuitively become more interested in food and are more likely to eat lunch, because they helped you make it.
Be creative. If lunch doesn’t look fun and colourful, it won’t be eaten and there is no nutritional value in that. Try using cookie cutters to cut fruit into some funky shapes, and go for the orange, red, green (…traffic light colours anyone?)
Make water fun by adding mint, raspberries and lime for some extra flavour and colour. They will feel like they are getting something special and it will prevent those pesky soft drinks from sneaking into the diet. Jamie Oliver has some great suggestions.
Change it up. No one likes to eat the same thing every single day including kiddies. Variety ensures a whole host of nutrition is being eaten throughout the week.
Swap the packet of chips for popcorn. Making your own does mean you can be in charge of the flavours. Try sprinkling with a little cinnamon, chilli (if tolerated), cocoa powder and a little salt. Or best of all, come up with your own savoury combinations!
Great ideas for snacks and other resources:
What to limit
Nuts. Schools are usually nut free these days due to the 1 in 20 children that now have a nut allergy. However, check the school policy as peanuts may be the only nut (really its a legume) not to pack. Unsalted nuts are a great source of protein.
Discretionary food. Limit the trip down the middle supermarket aisles. Foods that are higher in fibre, low in sugar, salt and fat are a great option and usually found around the perimeter.
Encouraging your child to get involved will notably ensure that preparing lunch becomes more of a bonding activity rather than a chore. Stick to the outside aisles, choose colourful fruit and veg, opt for a variety of textures and become familiar with the five different food groups.
The Nutrition Press team wish all the parents and kiddies out there a fantastic 2016 school year!
If your child is a fussy eater or you are worried about their daily intake, contact the Accredited Practising Dietitian for further information.
References [ + ]
|1.||⇪||Sanigorski A BA, Kremer P, Swinburn B. Lunchbox contents of Australian school children: room for improvement. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2005|
|2.||⇪ab||SanigorskiA BA, Kremer P, Swinburn B. Lunchbox contents of Australian school children: room for improvement. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2005|
|3.||⇪ab||Watson WL, Kury A, Wellard L, Hughes C, Dunford E, Chapman K. Variations in serving sizes of Australian snack foods and confectionary. Appetite. 2016;96:32-7|