If you have established a healthy eating pattern at home, once your child starts attending nursery or primary school and comes under other influences it can become harder to hold onto those habits.
Some nursery schools provide lunches and snacks while others expect children to bring their own packed lunch. Primary schools provide lunch.
Menus are usually provided a month in advance so parents can know exactly what is on offer and then opt for the school lunch or provide a packed lunch.
Outside contractors are contracted to provide food either to individual schools or to a couple of schools and usually have discussions with the school about what type of menus to provide.
Wayne Jones O’ Connor from Food For Thought says there are challenges in providing food for schools.
They provide to two schools, Cayman Prep and First Baptist WEECARE. O’Connor is very keen to provide healthy options and children are offered two main course options and a salad option. He admits that when they first introduced the salads, they were not a massive hit. Kids did not naturally flock to the salad bar but he says “what did happen, which was encouraging, was that they started to take salads with their main course which was a step forward.”
O’ Connor says that it is a simple fact that if younger kids don’t like what they see they won’t eat it so the food has to look attractive. He believes that there are ways of giving kids healthier options which are subtle and do not put them off.
One of the approaches, he says, is in the way you prepare the food. He says for instance “you can bake chicken instead of frying it or using turkey meatballs rather than beef. If you are using pasta mix in some whole wheat or use tri colour so they are getting some spinach too”. For nursery children who can’t eat hard fruit they will make fruit smoothies with yoghurt.
He thinks that if food appears to be fun food then kids are more likely to eat it.
Teritia Peart’s two children attend WEECARE. She says when you have a busy work life you don’t always have the time to prepare a well balanced lunch for your child. “The Food For Thought menu is varied and nutritious and you feel reassured as a parent that your child is getting something healthy in the middle of the day.”
Principal of WEECARE, Esther Hinds says they try and encourage healthy eating within the school but with probably around 30 to 40 per cent of children bringing in their own lunches it is sometimes out of the control of the school.
Parents often say that they have to give their child what they want even though it is not healthy because they won’t eat anything else. So what is the answer?
Andrea Hill, a nutritionist, says that “it can be very tricky to keep children interested in healthy foods, i.e. fruits and veggies, but this does need to begin at a very young age.”
She says that as children grow up they ultimately run into what nutritionists call ‘food jags’ which means they can love a vegetable like broccoli one day, then the next week they absolutely hate it.
Andrea advises parents not to make a big deal about a current dislike. If parents force the child to eat a despised vegetable they are more likely to turn the child off it for life.
She suggests rotating fruit and vegetables and the next time the hated vegetable come round, your child might have for gotten their aversion.
Alternatively it might be about how a particular food is prepared or presented to the child.
“Some kids will not touch a raw carrot, but when offered cooked in a soup or on the side it goes over a lot better.”
She thinks it is a good idea for children to help in the preparation of their own food and then they understand the makeup.
So how do you plan a packed lunch which is nutritious and won’t be so boring that it will be exchanged for French fries and burger once they get to school?
O’ Connor says if you are giving kids a packed lunch it does take a little bit of thought and time and might need a little bit of imagination.“If you make a little baked chicken and give them a little bit ranch dressing then it looks like a meal from a well known food chain but will be healthier.”
Andrea says so that parents do not get overwhelmed, the best way is to consider the basic food groups and include a food from each group. For example:
Starchy food – whole-grain breads, wraps, crackers, pasta, sweet potato, or brown rice
Protein – tuna, chicken, tofu, beans, eggs, yogurt, soy milk boxes, cheese
Vegetables – mini tomatoes, cucumber wheels, colourful pepper sticks, tomato/vegetable soups
Fruit (for dessert) – unsweetened fruit or applesauce cups, grapes, watermelon cubes.
Small sandwiches or brown pita bread with cheese, tuna, chicken hummus and salad or grated carrot.
Washed and cut up raw vegetables or fresh fruits.
Kids might eat vegetables if they have a dip like hummus to go with them.
Falafel or egg salad
Bite-sized oven-roasted potato cubes, oven roasted carrots. Roast in minimum of olive oil.
Left-over home-roasted chicken wings or drumsticks.
For very young children, finger-shaped chunks of chicken breast are easier to eat. Serve with cherry tomatoes, mini corncobs, raw sugar-snap peas, etc.