How to pack a nutritious lunch box

2015-01-15 09:48

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According to the South African Medical Research Council, studies have indicated that the nutritional intake and growth rate of children between the ages of two and 12 can have a profound effect on their susceptibility to obesity and chronic diseases in later years.

According to clinical dietician Nathalie Mat, the number of overweight and obese children in South Africa is on the rise.

“Part of this is because children are not eating a balanced diet or exercising enough. While we cannot control whether or not our children swap lunch with their friends, it is important that we teach them to eat mainly healthy ‘everyday’ or ‘growing’ food and limit the amount of ’sometimes’ or less healthy food that we eat. One of the best ways to do this is to eat a balanced diet ourselves.”

We asked Mat for her tips on making a well-balanced and healthy lunch for your little one.

“A balanced lunch box should consist of a variety of foods that will keep the brain and body fuelled during school. There should be a starchy food such as bread, rice, pap or pasta. These are the brain’s primary fuel source,” she said.

“Protein-rich food such as cheese, egg, meat, fish, yoghurt and beans help to keep children full for longer. A small amount of fat such as margarine, nuts or nut butter [like peanut butter] or mayonnaise can be included but keep portions small.”

It’s very rare to find a child that’s keen on regular vegetable intake but Mat encourages parents to find a way, “If a child does not have vegetables in their lunch box, they are unlikely to reach the number of vegetable servings that they need in a day. Chopped carrots or cucumber sticks are great for lunch boxes. Sweets and juices do not need to be in the lunch. If you do want to include a ‘treat’, limit it to once a week so that the child can still eat something less healthy at parties or with their parents over the weekend.”

When asked the importance of healthy eating at various ages, Mat responded: “By roughly the age of 11, their eating habits will be set and will be very difficult to change. Fussy eating can be common below the age of five but more balanced eating should be encouraged as the child gets older. Children under two years of age should never be put on diet; between the ages of two and five the diet can start to include low-fat or fat-free dairy and a move away from children’s foods to family foods should occur.”

Mat’s stance is that food shouldn’t be regarded as a treat and her healthy snack options provide quick and easy alternatives.

“Healthy lunch box snacks include dried fruit or fresh chopped fruit; homemade popcorn; a small portion of nuts; low-fat blocks of cheese and yoghurt if the lunch box can be kept cool.”

Portions are also an important factor when planning your childs lunchboxes.

“The amount of food a child needs varies greatly according to the age and activity levels of the child. Ask your child if their lunch box has enough for the day – a relatively simple approach, but often neglected Mat says.

“This is especially important if the child is playing sport after school as they will need two small meals in their lunch box. If you are worried your child is growing too fast, your family doctor, local clinic or dietitian will be able to plot their weight and height on growth charts to put their growth into perspective for you.”

Here are some useful recipes to ensure a healthy, happy little chappie:

Pita Pizza


Pita bread, halved

Olive oil

All Gold tomato sauce

Mature cheddar cheese


Baby tomatoes

Salt and black pepper


Halve the pitas lengthways. Brush with a little oil and toast both sides. Top with tomato sauce, mature cheddar, chorizo and baby tomatoes. Add black pepper and a pinch of salt for taste. Grill again until bubbling.

Sandwich on a stick


Cups of bread cubes (ciabatta, French, or other hearty bread)

Cups of cubed mozzarella or cheddar cheese

Cherry tomatoes, halved

Lettuce, torn into small pieces



Skewer the ingredients in this order: 1 cube of bread, 1 piece of lettuce, 1 cherry tomato half, 1 cube of cheese, 1 cube of bread. Repeat 1-2 times on each skewer, depending on the length of your skewers. Serve with a dip or mustard for dipping.

Salad sandwich


1 wholewheat bun

A handful of fresh watercress

6 slices of thinly sliced cucumber

1/2 grated carrot

1/4 sliced avocado

Handful of crispy onion sprinkles



Cut open a whole wheat bun. Smother a thick layer of hummus on each side. Layer the remaining ingredients.

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