Lunch boxes to delight

2016-01-28 06:00
A new year at school also means a new year of lunch boxes. PHOTO: supplied

A new year at school also means a new year of lunch boxes. PHOTO: supplied

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NOW that the new school year has begun, lazy holiday mornings have been quickly forgotten amid the bustle of packing school bags, remembering sports kit and ensuring the children eat some breakfast before leaving the house.

Of course, a new year at school also means a new year of lunch boxes. Today we’ll take a look at how to keep packed lunches healthy yet still interesting, whether for pupils, students, businesspeople or mums playing taxi all afternoon.

Eating regularly is one of the cornerstones of maintaining good energy levels and concentration throughout the day. For a pupil participating in extramural activities after school, or a businessperson needing to be on top of his or her game for an afternoon meeting, nutritious snacks eaten during the day will prevent energy slumps and sugar cravings.

The key to a successful lunch box is making it interesting, but of course with healthy lower-fat and low-sugar snacks. A packed meal should be no different from any other balanced meal eaten at home. In other words, the meal should include a large proportion of vegetables and fruit (half the meal), a protein serving (the size of the eater’s palm) and a starch (the size of his or her fist).

Now for the how-to

Children (and many adults) love the surprise of opening many containers, so stimulate interest by packing numerous little tubs into a small cooler bag. Try to pack the fruit and vegetables on top, so they catch the hungry eyes first.

Pack at least two different colours of fruits or vegetables to fill half of the lunch box.

• Green: broccoli florets, gherkins, cucumber wedges, mange tout, grapes, Kiwi slices.

• Red or pink: cherry tomatoes, strips of red pepper, baby beetroot, strawberries, guava wedges, black grapes, watermelon.

• Yellow or orange: carrot fingers, baby corn, yellow pepper strips, peach, pineapple fingers, mango wedges, banana, naartjie segments.

Pack protein to fill one quarter of the lunch box. For an interesting addition try mini meatballs, shaved cold meats, a small packet of biltong, a boiled egg, low-fat cheese wedges, low-fat fruit yogurt.

Fill the last quarter of the lunch box with starch, such as a slice of seed loaf cut into fingers, mielie bread, Provita or Ryvita lightly spread with margarine, home-made popcorn, a bran muffin, leftover macaroni or rice mixed in with the other components.

The protein and starch portions can also simply be combined to form a sandwich. Try leftover meat and hummus spread, biltong and avocado, grilled bacon and mashed apple, mashed sardines mixed with chopped celery, lemon juice and mayonnaise, fish paste with chopped hard-boiled egg and mayonnaise.

Sandwich tips

• Children find it easier to eat sandwiches cut into small wedges or quarters. Cookie cutters can also be used to make fun shapes that will be sure to entice.

• Use spinach leaves or shredded cabbage as an alternative to lettuce. Line the bread with these leaves to prevent the sandwich from becoming soggy.

• Mix one part low-fat mayonnaise with four parts mashed baked beans or butter beans to make a sandwich spread for bread instead of using plain mayonnaise or margarine. This adds a great new flavour to an otherwise ordinary sandwich.

This may sound like a whole lot of effort and fuss. I won’t deny that it takes more planning than a simple jam sandwich. To cut down on time spent preparing lunch boxes, prepare the vegetables in advance and keep them in a bulk storage container in the fridge. The protein portions can also be prepared in advance and kept on hand in the fridge. Having the components ready before the morning rush will make packing a healthy lunch much more doable. Your improved concentration and performance during the day will make you glad you went the extra mile. Not to mention better health after another year of healthy lunches.

Always remember to add a bottle of water to the packed lunch. Try to use water as the regular lunch-box companion. If a flavoured drink is needed from time to time, a flavoured milk drink will sustain energy and concentration much more successfully than a sugary sports drink. With a little bit of forethought, an interesting packed lunch will be devoured gleefully. Happy lunch box planning.

• Sharon Hultzer is a consulting dietitian. She can be reached at eatsmart@

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