With the new school year here, for many it will be their first time with new friends to make and fun things to learn. And because learning about good food habits from early in life is one of our most important lessons, it’s helpful to put some thought and planning into food, especially our lunches. Did you know lunches provide around one third of our daily nutritional needs?
Safefood have some helpful tips for a healthy, tasty school lunchbox.
Seven steps to creating a healthy lunchbox
Include a wide variety of food groups - starchy foods, protein foods like meat and fish, dairy, and fruit and vegetables
Try to offer different varieties from each food groups every day - no one wants to be eating a ham sandwich five days a week!
Try to have new types of bread e.g. pitta bread, bagels, wholemeal rolls – you keep a stock in the freezer
Cook extra rice/pasta in the evening - these can make tasty salads and are just as nice eaten cold with some vegetables added.
Theme your lunchbox on a different country, e.g. Italian - try a pasta salad, Mexican - soft tortillas with filling
For older children, homemade soup (in a Thermos flask) is great for cold days while salads are light and refreshing for warmer weather. Both are packed with essential vitamins and minerals
Fluids are important for children - up to 6 cups of fluid should be encouraged daily. Milk and water are the best options. Straws and brightly coloured drinks bottles can make these more interesting
The following weekly lunchbox planner shows you the potential variety you can have. Some kids may not like salads to begin with so maybe just start them off with some lettuce leaves in a sandwich
Monday - Chicken salad sandwich on brown bread, a small bag of popcorn, a piece of fruit, a small bottle of water and a yoghurt.
Tuesday - Tuna salad wrap, carrot sticks, a cheese portion and a small carton of pure, unsweetened fruit juice
Wednesday - Slice of ham and pineapple pizza, fruit of choice (chopped for smaller children), a yoghurt drink and a slice of fruit bread
Thursday - Cheese and crackers, veggie sticks, a banana or dried fruit like a small box of raisins and a bottle of water
Friday - Pasta salad made with last night’s pasta leftovers and chunks of cheese and vegetables. Follow up with some grapes, a yoghurt and a carton of unsweetened fruit juice. Many schools will allow a treat like a small chocolate biscuit on one day so you can include it on that day.
To help your child get the most from their lunchbox, try to include the following each day, remembering to gradually introduce any changes over time.
One to two portions starchy food like potatoes, rice, pasta, wholegrain or brown bread to keep your child going through the school day
One or more portions of fruit and vegetables, like apples, oranges, bananas, berries or salad in a sandwich/wrap or vegetable sticks
One portion of dairy foods like milk, cheese or yoghurt
Small amounts of high protein foods like deli meats, fish, like tuna or salmon, or vegetarian options like hummus or egg
A small bottle of water or pure, unsweetened fruit juice instead of juice drinks or fizzy drinks
It’s okay to have treat foods like crisps, chocolate, cake, biscuits or sweets every now and again for lunch, just not every day – these foods give you too much sugar or fat and many schools won’t allow them as part of a healthy lunchbox scheme. Homemade popcorn and fruit make great snack alternatives too.
And finally, make sure your child’s lunchbox is clean and safe. Remember sandwiches containing meat or other foods that need to be chilled should be kept as cold as possible until lunchtime. You can help keep lunches cool and safe by following these tips:
An insulated lunchbox or bag can be used to help keep lunches cool. A small ice pack can also be used or alternatively include a frozen fruit juice carton
It is important that lunches are not kept in a warm place such as near radiators or in direct sunlight as this can make a tasty lunch “go off”
Discard any perishable foods that haven’t been eaten at the end of the day
Wash and dry reusable water bottles, lids and lunchboxes every day in warm soapy water.
Encourage your kids to wash their hands before eating, including before eating lunch from a lunchbox.
To download a free copy of safefood’s lunchbox leaflet, visit www.safefood.eu or find us on Facebook.