School mornings are busy enough without daily dilemmas on what to pack in the lunchbox. Nutritionist Bobbie Crothers gives five nutrition must-haves for creating healthy, balanced and tasty lunches.
High-fibre, wholegrain carbohydrates
Reduce the chances of sandwiches returning home untouched by keeping them interesting when it comes to the bread. Steer clear of the usual plain white bread that ends up soggy before lunchtime comes around. Try other options such as wraps, flat breads, grainy rolls, crackers, bagels and high-fibre loaves. While it’s important to choose high-fibre and wholegrain varieties, taste and texture is important to kids so try to let them have some say.
- Tip: If your kids love white bread, try using one slice of high-fibre white with one slice of brown in a sandwich as a way of easing them on to grainy bread.
Just as you need a little protein with your lunch to help you feel satisfied, so do kids. The protein component of their lunch also helps provide a number of important essential nutrients such as calcium, iron and magnesium. Protein-rich foods are usually low-GI, too, which helps sustain energy levels. The best options include low-fat dairy snacks such as cheese sticks and slices, yoghurt tubes or pouches (these are also great frozen), or flavoured long-life milk. Boiled eggs are also a great addition to any lunchbox, either on a sandwich or still in their shell. Or try lean meats on a sandwich – chicken or turkey, tuna, salmon or lean ham are all good choices.
- Tip: Boiled eggs are often better welcomed when you add a hand-drawn smiley face or a brightly-coloured sticker to the shell.
While not loved by every child, fruit is an essential ingredient in a healthy lunchbox. If this is something that also often returns home at the end of the day, you might have to steer away from the traditional apple or banana and try something with a little more appeal. When it comes to fresh fruit try strawberries, raspberries, grapes or blueberries. These are great as they naturally come in sizes perfect for little mouths. They are also bursting with flavour and colour to make them a little more interesting. Also try alternating fresh fruit with dried or packaged fruit like sultanas or canned pears and peaches. Remember: fresh is best as it has fewer kilojoules and usually more fibre.
- Tip: Some fruit is even yummier frozen. Try peeled bananas, grapes, mango and melon balls.
While some packaged snacks can help provide extra energy for active kids and help boost intakes of some nutrients, aim to include no more than one packaged snack in the lunchbox. One positive to packaged snacks is they add a little excitement to the lunchbox, which is important, too!
While fruit juice boxes and soft drinks are easily added to a lunchbox (and are guaranteed lunchbox stars, as voted by kids!) they are just not necessary. In fact, a 2008 review of the research found that sugar-sweetened drinks such as fruit juice, soft drink, sports drinks and cordials may contribute to childhood obesity in three ways: larger portion sizes, higher percentage of children consuming them and increasing number of serves. The researchers suggest children drink no more than two sweetened drinks per week including fruit juice. As you would have guessed, water is best!
- Tip: To try and keep kids interested when it comes to plain water, look for a snazzy drink bottle to make it a little less boring!