Whether it’s for daycare, preschool or big school, when you pack a lunch box you’re packing an important part of your littlie’s nutritional intake for the day. You can also end up packing a little frustration yourself, though, when the food you’ve lovingly prepared comes back half eaten or, worse, completely untouched! But if you’re finding it tricky to pull together foods your child will eat that will also provide them with the nourishment they need, you’re not alone.
The key is not to overfill the lunch box with too many different things. Some end up looking more like fishing tackle boxes than lunch boxes and this large choice can often overwhelm children, not to mention make it difficult for parents to find so many different healthy options each day. Kids look for tasty foods that are quick and easy to eat so they can munch and then go and play, so try these:
Try… Fresh fruit
Fruit is a good source of fibre, vitamin C and slow-release energy, particularly when it has edible skin or pith. Pack seasonal fruits cut into bite-sized pieces for convenience and appeal (chopped fruit seems to be more readily eaten than the stuff left whole). You can also freeze fruits such as orange segments to keep them chilled and provide extra cooling for the lunch box. When it comes to fruits that brown easily once cut, such as apples and pears, brush the chopped edges with a little lemon or orange juice to keep things looking fresh.
Try… A bit of dairy
Dairy foods or calcium-rich equivalents are important for growing healthy teeth and bones. Opt for reduced-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese products if your child is over two years of age, or full-fat dairy if they’re younger. Try milk (plain or flavoured), a fruit smoothie or drinking yoghurt and keep it cold with a Thermos® Brand insulated drink bottle. Alternatively, if your child is sensitive to dairy, try a soy equivalent. These contain a similar protein amount and most have been fortified with extra calcium.
Try… A nutrition-packed main course
The main lunch meal, which could be in the form of a sandwich, salad or leftovers from the night before, should be rich in iron and protein. The iron helps your littlie’s immune system while the protein helps with growth and repair. It will also fill your child up and slow the absorption of her food to give her sustained energy for concentration and alertness.
Pack a wholegrain sandwich, wrap or crackers incorporating a protein such as meat, chicken, fish (tuna and salmon are good options), or legumes such as beans and chickpeas (whole or as part of hummus or bean dip). If your little one prefers a salad-style lunch, throw some rice, pasta pieces or even homemade croutons in with the protein. Last night’s dinner can be an attractive choice for the lunch box as it will be familiar to your child and is incredibly convenient. Spaghetti Bolognese, for example, can be kept warm and placed in a heat-retaining Thermos® Brand food jar so it’s ready to eat as soon as the lunch bell rings.
Try… A home-baked snack
A healthy, home-baked treat is a good source of carbohydrate for energy and fibre for keeping your child’s digestive system in working order. Banana pikelets, fruit scrolls, pumpkin scones or carrot muffins are all great ideas for lunch-box snacks. To make things healthier try to incorporate fresh or dried fruits and reduce the sugar content of your recipes.