Do you find it tricky when trying to shop for a healthy diet for your child’s lunch box? Do you struggle to understand what intake of fibre and calcium etc that your child should have? Dr Muireann Cullen of the Nutrition and Health Foundation gives her top tips for healthy lunchboxes.
Helping to Establish Healthy Eating for Life
Many parents aren’t aware of the importance of lunch, or are confused about what to pack in their child’s lunchbox. Packing your kids’ lunches for school is a great way for you to monitor the nutritional content of their meals and for your child to learn about healthy food and help with preparation. Even though lunch seems like a small meal, by introducing a variety of delicious healthy foods to your children, you will be helping to establish healthy eating patterns that will last for a lifetime.
Sometimes kids don’t want to bring their own lunch to school because their friends don’t bring theirs, or they would prefer to eat the lunch the school serves. It can be a struggle to balance the health needs of your children with cost and convenience. Kids, on the other hand, want a lunch that is appealing, tastes good, is quick and easy to eat, and has the stamp of approval from their friends.
Arming yourself with information
In fact, the National Children’s Food Survey (IUNA, 2005) found that 68% parents find it hard at least some of the time to provide a healthy diet for their child. This study also showed that children had low intakes of fibre, calcium, iron, vitamins A, C, D and folate.
In addition, 1 in 5 children aged 5 – 12 years are overweight or obese. With this in mind, the Nutrition and Health Foundation (NHF) is advising parents to arm themselves with the latest information on food nutrition and to realise the potential of school lunches as a setting for positive intervention in the fight against obesity and nutrient insufficiency.
With so much to consider each day, creating a healthy lunch box is sometimes easier said than done. Before you start stocking up on snacks and drinks for the kids’ school lunches, it might benefit the whole family if you get into the habit of using the food pyramid and reading food labels while grocery shopping. The NHF website www.nhfireland.ie aims to demystify food labels and provides an interactive food pyramid.
When reading the ingredient list on a food label, it tells you what is used to make the product. The ingredients are listed in descending order, so the ingredient that was used in the greatest amount will appear first on the list.
With that in mind, using the food pyramid and the food label, parents can provide nutritious healthy lunches.
An overall balance between different foods can provide a lunch that is not only appealing but also tastes good and can look cool in front of their friends.
Top Tips for Healthy Lunchboxes
To help provide nutrients needed for growing children
1. Vary the carbohydrates
Use bagels, rolls, pitta pockets, wraps in addition to bread for variety. Pastas, noodles, potatoes or couscous are also good sources of carbohydrates. Choosing the multigrain/wholemeal/wholegrain option will help increase fibre intakes.
In order to increase fibre, vitamin and mineral intakes – aim to have at least one piece of fruit or vegetable in the lunch box to count towards your child’s five fruit and vegetable portions a day. Try vegetable sticks with dips, or a small container with mixed vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks, celery and cucumber or small fruits such as apples, mandarins, kiwis, mini boxes of raisins etc. Fresh fruits and vegetables are displayed loose in the supermarket and as such will not have a food label.
3. Source of proteins and vitamins
In addition to lean cuts of ham, roast beef, chicken or turkey, tuna and egg salads are great sources of protein and vitamins.
4. Calcium Intake
Yoghurt, yoghurt drinks, fromage frais, small cartons of milk (including flavoured milk) and cheese provide plenty of calcium.
5. The Drink
Use your child’s drink as another source of nutrition in his lunchbox. Milk is highly recommended as a daily beverage. Water is also a good option.
Keep treats as treats – they are not as filling as more nutritious foods of similar energy content. Check to see if your child’s school has a policy on treats.
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Do you find it easy to decide on what’s healthy for your child’s lunchbox? let us know your thoughts in the comments below.