Lunchboxes – love them or hate them, most of us have to do them every day, so we wanted to share some tips with you, which we hope help.
• Use the EatWell Guide as your resource for packing a lunch. Make sure there is something from each food group in there, and make sure it is as close to its natural state as possible. So for example, while Yo Yo Bears will say they are one of your 5 a day, they are high in sugar, as they are so processed, where as an apple is unprocessed, has retained its natural fibre in the skin and is far better for you, and cheaper!
• Always go for lesser refined carbohydrates if you can – so swap white bread for brown bread or even 50/50. Try wholewheat pasta and rice, and give variety with breads, so use rolls and wraps as well as sliced breads.
• Try using fruit and natural yoghurt with a drizzle of honey instead of a shop bought yoghurt which are often full of sugar and highly processed. It can cut the sugar content dramatically, and when you think that a 7-10 year old should only be having 24g of sugar a day, some children may be getting that at breakfast depending on what type of cereal they eat.
• Using the EatWell Guide, talk to your little ones about things they may like to try in their lunch boxes. Understandably parents are reluctant to spend money on new things or spend the time preparing them if they think their children won’t eat it, but letting them lead on this can often help. And include them in the shopping, and let them choose, or ask them to choose one new fruit or vegetable to try each week.
• Have a healthy lunch formula. A good one is that every lunch must include a sandwich or savoury, a piece of fruit and a yoghurt or milk-based, low fat dessert, and always try and put water or milk in as their drink and avoid juice or fizzy drinks.
• Make packed lunch rules – e.g. no sweets – and stick to them. No deviations or little treats!
• Try and avoid anything that doesn’t need preparation and comes in a packet. Inevitably these products will be highly processed therefore high in fat and sugar. They won’t sustain children’s energy or concentration levels in an afternoon and will contribute to ill health in the long term. I always say these products are fine in moderation, but anything that is as close to it’s natural state as possible is better.
A school in the UK which we absolutely love is Charlton Manor Primary, and they have some really useful tips too.
• Give your child water (if possible) or well-diluted fruit juice. Water will be much more appealing if you can make sure it stays cold – it might be worth investing in a good lunchbox sized flask.
• First of all, invest in proper packaging. There’s nothing quite as unappealing as a soggy packed lunch. Fruit and vegetable sticks that are still fresh when the dinner bell goes are far more likely to hit the spot. Buy different-sized plastic containers with snap-on lids (make sure your child can open them!) and a lunchbox/carry case with space for an ice pack so the contents stay chilled.
• Let your child come up with ideas for what he/she wants – but make sure suggestions fall within your healthy lunch formula (above).
• Leftovers from supper the previous evening can be tasty and hassle-free. Try to plan your evening meal with the next day’s packed lunch in mind. Have one basic leftover ingredient – e.g. rice, couscous, pasta and add cubes of cheese, cooked meat, tuna sweetcorn, beans, whatever you have in the fridge or store cupboard.
• If your child wants crisps, suggest alternatives such as crackers or crispbreads. You could spread a low-fat soft cheese or hummus on top to make a tasty snack.
• Buy different sorts of bread for sandwiches, rolls or wraps – e.g. pitta, bagels, granary – and steer clear of white bread.
• Low-fat soft cheese and fruit (try strawberries, kiwi fruit or banana) make great sandwich fillers.
• Tomatoes and cucumber slices make sandwiches soggy. Instead, go for grated carrot or shredded lettuce (choose a variety with crunchy leaves, such as Iceberg or Cos).
• Include a pack of raisins (or measure out a small handful from a bigger bag and put them into a small plastic container). You can also do the same with dried fruits such as apricots.
• Keep it simple and keep your portion sizes in check. We often fill our children’s lunchboxes as we worry they will be hungry, but primary school aged children don’t need to eat that much. A sandwich with a savoury filling on brown bread of 50/50 bread, a piece of fruit, carrot or cucumber sticks, or a small corn on the cob and maybe a yoghurt is a great lunch and will keep them full until school finishes.
• Let them help to make their own – it’s proven that children who grow food and prepare it are more likely to eat it.