We all know the saying "a healthy mind in a healthy body" and this is even more the case for kids. While they need lots of energy to grow healthy and strong, they also have long tiresome days trying to concentrate and fill their little minds with all sorts of new knowledge. Packing a healthy and nutritional lunch will help keep their bodies healthy and will keep up their energy levels throughout the day. These healthy school lunch box ideas will make a great start to providing kids with balanced and nutritional lunches.
Healthy school lunches should contain a variety of foods: starches, fruit and vegetables, dairy products, a drink and an optional snack. The quantity of each can be varied depending on your child's age but their lunch box should contain some items of each food group. It's also important to provide variety so they don't get bored of their lunches and so they get a variety of nutrients. Even fussy children will need this variety. If you're worried about your child getting hungry, choose a starchy food that's well liked and add some lesser known or liked items on the side. Fussy eaters are more likely to try new foods when their parents aren't around and when they are surrounded by other kids eating.
Starchy foods will make up the main part of the healthy school lunch box. Starches will help children feel full and the energy from carbohydrates will be released slowly meaning they'll be full for longer. Choosing the right starches is important. White bread for example contains very little in terms of nutrition while brown bread is packed with fibre and vitamins. This doesn't mean however that white bread doesn't have a place in a healthy lunch box. It just means it should be given to children in moderation, maybe once a week or so. Fillers for sandwiches such as meat, fish and cheese will provide the necessary protein.
The second largest part of the healthy school lunch box will be fruits. We should all be eating our 5 a day, but it isn't always easy. To ensure children get their 5 a day, add some fruit with most meals and snacks. Lunch is the ideal time to add some fruit. As said, it will help them get a little on their way to their 5 a day, but it will also give them a boost of vitamins and fluids.
The next part of a healthy lunch is dairy products. Dairy products will provide children with calcium which will help them grow healthy bones and teeth. Calcium continues strengthening bones until the age of 20-25. Then the bone mass density is either maintained or decreased which potentially leads to osteoporosis. So it's important to build sufficient bone mass density before this age. In general, 3 portions of dairy products per day are recommended. The best way to achieve this is to incorporate dairy products in children's meals and snacks. Addition of a dairy product to the lunch box is therefore a very good idea.
Fluids are important for children's health and especially at school. The brain consists for 80% of water so it comes to no surprise that even mild dehydration can lead to significant lapses in concentration, headaches, tiredness and reduced alertness. Thirst isn't felt until you children are already dehydrated by 0.8 to 2 % of their bodyweight. For example for a 10 year old og 30 kg, this could be about 300 ml of fluid which is the same amount it would possibly use during PE. Children can therefore be very easily dehydrated without even realising it and this will have a negative effect on their concentration and performance at school. Therefore it's important for children to drink at regular intervals, even if the child isn't thirsty.
Finally, snacks can have a place in a healthy lunch box. Snacks are smaller, high-energy foods. These are very good when children are particularly energetic as they will help children re-fuel their energy levels. It's also possible to add this as an occasional treat. This is optional so it's up to parents to decide whether to add this to the healthy lunch box or not.
Now we know what a healthy school lunch should consist of, let's have a look at the practical side of things and come up with some healthy school lunch box ideas.
- Starches: Choose from sliced bread or bread rolls (vary between brown, granary and multi-grain), a wrap, pita bread or bagels. Occasionally, naan and chappatis could be an option. Fill with meat, fish or cheese (see Fillers). Try not to give sweet fillings as they will make the child hungry quicker. Or make a salad with leftover potatoes, pasta or couscous as an alternative to a sandwich.
- Fillers: As said before, meat, fish or vegetables provide the best fillers. It's important to provide sufficient variety. The following are some filler ideas but with some creativity you could come up with many more nutritious and tasty fillings.
Meat: any cooked meats, diced chicken or turkey with tomato and lettuce, ham and cheese, roast chicken and hummus, chicken and mashed avocado, bacon with lettuce and tomato, paté.
Fish: tuna mayo, tuna mayo and sweetcorn, tuna salad, sardines, prawn cocktail and lettuce.
Cheese: grated cheese with tomato and lettuce, cheese with grated carrot, egg salad and lettuce, cottage cheese with pineapple.
- Fruit: Choose between a handful of dried fruits such as raisins or dried apricots, whole fruits such as a banana, apple, pear, plums or whichever fruit is in season, fruit salad and jelly made with fruit juice and fruit pieces. Tinned fruits are a good idea in the winter.
- Dairy: Choose from fruit yoghurt, fromage frais, rice pudding, custard, greek or plain yoghurt, cheese, cottage cheese.
- Fluids: It's best not to give sugary drinks as they make the child go hungry quicker. Steer clear of flavoured milk as this is usually high in sugar. Instead go for water, semi-skimmed, soy or goats milk or diluted pure fruit juice.
- Snacks: Cereal bars and flap jacks may sound healthy but they are packed with sugar and should be avoided. Healthier alternatives are a boiled egg, a scotch egg, a mini sausage roll, a small packet of reduced fat and low salt crisps, rice cakes, unsalted popcorn, a breadstick, a small piece of cake or cookie or a savoury flapjack.
- Make sure the child can open all the packets and tubs.
- Label the lunchbox.
- Buy plastic cutlery to give with the lunchbox.
- Always put tomato between fillings to avoid the bread going soggy.
- Add a sheet of kitchen paper for spills and dirty fingers.
- Check with the school whether nuts are allowed in school. Some schools forbid them as some children have allergies.
- Check if your school has a healthy lunch policy which may put restrictions on what may be contained in the lunch box.