Packing your child off to school with a healthy lunch is paramount to ensure your child has sufficient energy levels to maintain them throughout the day. Second to breakfast, lunch is what keeps everyone powered throughout the day, and when done right, can help set your child up to be healthy, energized, alert and productive, from morning assembly to class dismissal.
Junk and heavily processed foods are filled with additives, unnatural products and sugar substitutes which can zap children’s energy levels, leaving them lethargic, irritable and less likely to learn. Indeed, teachers have often reported higher energy levels in children who have enjoyed a healthy meal, as well as increased attention spans in school.
“It can be extremely challenging for busy parents to pack a healthy, nutritious lunch when there are so many unhealthy pre-packaged foods available today that can make packing a kid’s lunch easier,” nutritionist Andrea Hill explained. “From lunch-able meal boxes to fruit gummies and chocolate-covered granola bars, foods like these will only contribute unhealthy calories, sodium, and sugar – all unnecessary to children – overweight or not.”
For youngsters, a healthy lunch should incorporate a balance of carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables as well as some protein and a measure of good fat, such as milk or cheese. What’s important is the lunch’s nutritional value, one that features few processed and sugary items and more that place emphasis on what a child will need to grow. Foods with calcium and Vitamin D for bone growth, proteins, grains, and fibre for regularity are among the necessities.
Ms Hill said that among the most important things for parents to consider when packing their child’s lunch are to limit treats, keep it simple with healthy and nutritious fruits and vegetables and not to over pack.
“Of course, these actions will be useless if you – the parents – do not lead by example,” she added. “Kids are pretty good at sniffing out the “do as I say not as I do” routine. So when it comes to encouraging kids to live healthily take a good look at your own eating and exercise habits and see if you’re setting a good example.”
Here are Andrea’s top tips for parents to keep in mind when packing a healthy lunch for their child:
Do not over pack. Parents are often so worried whether their kids will actually eat their lunch that they not only over pack the quantity but the selection of foods. This doesn’t do your child any good because what happens is kids tend to fixate on the snacks, the treats, and they end up leaving or bringing home the sandwich, fruit or vegetable.
Keep it simple. Pack three components in every lunch: whole-grains (wrap, bread, crackers, pasta, rice, or muffin), protein (chicken, tuna, lean meat, reduced-fat cheese, egg, or beans), fruit and vegetables.
Pack water to drink. Don’t pack juice boxes or sugary drinks. Remember liquid calories like these don’t fill us up. Instead of packing a juice box, add fibre to your child’s diet by packing fresh fruit: grapes, berries, orange slices (don’t pack a whole orange; slice the orange for easy eating!).
Limit treats. Make a rule for how often you will pack chocolate-covered granola bars, Oreos, potato chips, and fruit gummies. All children need to understand these are not everyday foods. Have a plan and stick to it. Substitute these foods with healthier snacks like a snack-size bag of (air-popped) popcorn, homemade mini blueberry or carrot muffins, and higher-fiber granola bars.
Kids like to play with their food and eat with their hands (some of us adults still relish those activities too). Get them involved in making the foods that they’ll be taking for their lunches. Burritos, quesadillas, soft tacos and wraps are all great sandwich alternatives and travel well in a lunch box. Spend some time with them in the garden choosing vegetables, take them shopping and have them pick out different ingredients like vegetables, fruits, healthy snacks and whole grain pastas for the recipes you make together.
Don’t just send your child off to school with a healthy lunch. Be sure it’s an eco-friendly one too by packing a no-waste lunch box. Save a few trees by using cloth napkins and do your part by lessening landfill waste with reusable utensils. Both can be ported back home the same way they found their way to school — within a lunch box or reusable sack. Steer clear of prepackaged foods, juice boxes, and pouches, which create even more unnecessary hardship on our precious land. And finally, pack your food and drink in reusable containers. Just think of all the money you’d save per child per school year if you packed just two snacks and a drink in reusable containers.