Summer holidays are made for enjoying many of the good things in life. Good company, good weather, good times & good food. For many families, “good” in the sense of summer food often means a few more treats, fish and chips on the beach & road-trip ice-cream stops. In moderation, all akin to living a healthy & balanced life! However, now that school is back in full swing, many parents start wanting to up the nutrition ante again, to fuel developing minds & growing bodies throughout the term! Below are a few tips to help you get back into your healthy lunch-box groove…
Firstly, the basics. For school-aged children, a good supply of calcium, protein, iron, vitamin D and A are all essential. As a goal, try (not every lunch box will succeed and that’s OK!) to provide something from all food groups and mix it up where you can, to ensure you’re exposing the little ones to a wide variety of flavours and nutrients. When they know that is the only food on offer at school, they’re generally likely to be a little less fussy than at the kitchen table where they know the fridge provides options galore! As a goal, aim for;
2 servings of fruit and vegetables, 1 serving of protein, 1-2 servings of carbohydrate, 1 serving of calcium-providing dairy (or vegan cheeses/coconut yogurt).
Fruit and vegetables. Fruit is an obvious choice for healthy lunch boxes. However, many of the current bento box style lunch boxes don’t fit a whole piece of fruit into their compartments(ie. apple, nectarine, banana). Chopping fruit is a great solution, but some kids turn their noses up if the fruit has browned even slightly (sigh) and you’ll find you end up with soggy fruit returning to the kitchen bench after school. To help make sure your kid eats their fruit, try squeezing a tiny bit of lemon or lime juice on the sliced fruit once it’s in the box. It can work a treat to stop them browning! Cherry tomatoes are a welcome addition to many lunchboxes also, as they stay fresh throughout the day. Likewise, cucumber slices are a popular vegetable choice, although, in this hot weather, they do have the tendency to go a little floppy. A seasonal solution to that is the mini cucumbers which you can place into a lunchbox whole. Sliced corn from the cob is also a fabulous summer favourite!
Carbohydrate: Bread is a staple in most lunch boxes. Wholemeal is always best, and ideally, with the least amount of preservatives possible. Wholemeal pita pockets or wraps are a great go-to and nutritious filling ideas include; avocado, feta, grated carrot (carrot grated as finely as possible usually goes down best with little ones!), pesto, free-range ham, and tomato. When it comes to lettuce, it is, of course, a healthy addition but try to make sure you don’t place it next to the tomatoes as together, they seem to go soggy and you’ll potentially turn your kids off lettuce and tomato altogether which isn’t ideal! Other healthy carbohydrates include; cold wholemeal pasta (pasta with pesto and avocado or grated cheese is great cold!), brown rice with soy sauce and seaweed sheets sprinkled in, tuna melts, homemade banana or zucchini bread & corn pikelets.
Protein: Kids need an adequate supply of protein for healthy development and its especially important to help kids stay full for longer and consequently, concentrate better in class. A lunch box with a healthy amount of protein is a good way to avoid those crabby after-school meltdowns too! Healthy protein ideas include; boiled eggs, cold chicken drumsticks, cold quality meat sliced sausages, hummus with crackers or vegetable sticks, nitrite-free salami, bliss balls, cheese, tamari almonds, almond butter on celery (if nuts are allowed at school).
Calcium: Cheese and yogurt are obvious choices for calcium, but aren’t for everyone. Some dairy-free/vegan calcium options include; tahini (there are some great tahini cookie recipes online!), celery, dried figs and eggs. You can also buy calcium-enriched dairy-free milks which can be a good addition to smoothies.
Some other things to consider include;
The ‘healthier’ of the packaged snacks: Popcorn (look for low-salt and no sugar), kumara chips, seeded oat crackers, sliced free-range sausage rolls. I’m personally not a big fan of the squeezy/sucky packs of yogurt you can buy. I find the brands that are the “healthiest”, only actually contain a small amount of yogurt (and they’re not cheap!) and I cringe when thinking of all those plastic packets ending up in the landfill. A budget and environmentally friendly solution can be buying reusable pouches. Kai Carriers are great and I believe, are now available in some supermarkets (as well as online). You can fill them with yogurt from a larger tub, or as we do, make homemade smoothies. I blend up a huge smoothie at the beginning of the week and then pour into the pouches ready to whip out and throw in the bag during the morning rush. Chocolate smoothies are always a winner & can be made healthy with ingredients such as; frozen banana, chia seeds, a dash of vanilla, cacao, rice milk (or milk of choice), a handful of raw cashew nuts and the magic vegetable ingredient (that kids have no idea is in there)…frozen cauliflower! Tropical fruit smoothies to-go are also a great idea, especially if you have trouble getting fruit into your kids in other ways.
Water: An essential combo with school lunch boxes is water. If you’re worried that your little Einstein isn’t drinking enough water at school, try this magic tip. Add a couple of frozen berries into the water bottle in the morning and it will not only keep the water nice and cool, but it makes it an exciting pink colour and a subtle berry flavour. It’s a much healthier option than juice but a little more fun than water, if you’ve got a hot and bothered and dehydrated grizzler coming home at the end of the day.
Try and change things up every now and then to avoid lunch box boredom and also to ensure you’re covering the nutritional bases with variety. Pack a lunch that packs a nutritional punch and the whole family will be better off for it!