The new school year has just started, but you might already be overwhelmed by the fact that you will need to pack those lunch boxes for the rest of the year. What if you run out of ideas? What if your little one is a picky eater? Are you giving your child the right nutrition?
“A healthy lunchbox will ensure that your child’s nutritional and energy needs are met so that he or she can perform optimally in the classroom and on the sports field. Without it, he or she may struggle to concentrate and lack energy to perform at his or her best,” says Ria Catsicas, our go-to dietitian from Nutritional Solutions.
But now that we know how important a lunchbox is, you might feel even more overwhelmed. Don’t worry, our nutrition experts are here to help.
What does a healthy lunchbox look like?
“A balanced lunchbox should include a starch, a protein and fruit and vegetables – all in portions appropriate to your child’s age,” says Ria. Think of these tips as a basic outline for the daily lunchbox – once you have the building blocks in your fridge and pantry, you can easily create a healthy lunchbox:
1. Start with a starch
When we think of a starchy option for a lunchbox, the good old sandwich instantly comes up, and with good reason – it’s easy to pack and affordable, but you need to choose your bread wisely.
“Choose wholegrain and high-fibre starches. Think heavy health breads, rolls or wraps. These contain more nutrients and fibre than their ‘white flour’ counterparts and will help to control your child’s energy levels more effectively throughout the day,” explains Ria.
You can also break away from the traditional sarmie and opt for brown rice or pasta salads, or wholegrain crackers such as Provita.
2. Add your protein
Protein is important for optimum growth. Instead of reaching for a sugary sandwich filling such as jam, add protein to a sandwich by using lean shredded chicken breast, egg, tuna, meatballs from lean mince, or low-fat cheese such as cottage cheese, Ria suggests.
3. Now reach for the veggies
This is where our children often get finicky, but try and “hide” the veggies in the lunchbox by incorporating leafy greens and cucumber in a sandwich filling. You can also pack cut-up veggies such as peppers, carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes for a colourful, balanced lunchbox.
4. Add fruit
Fruit can be very versatile and easy to prepare or reach for first thing in the morning. Pack small apples, a bunch of grapes, a small banana, a handful of berries or cubed watermelon. Be guided by what your child enjoys. You can also pack dried fruit, but be wary of the portion as these can be loaded with sugar.
5. And what about a treat?
It’s okay to often indulge in a sweet treat, as this is key to teach children about balance and a healthy attitude towards food. Ria however remarks that you don’t have to add treats such as chocolate and cake to the lunch box as birthday parties and class sales often give the opportunity to indulge in these foods.
“Try to include healthy treats, such as dried fruit, a dried fruit bar, lean biltong, oven-baked pretzels, nuts or popcorn into the lunch box and limit money for tuck shop treats to once a week. Teach your child that a tuck shop treat will replace an item in the lunchbox and encourage them to choose something filling like a sandwich, instead of a packet of crisps or sweets,” says Ria.
Now, get to work
Below, you will find an example of a lunchbox menu created for a five-day school week. Note that this is only to be used as a guideline and that you can add according to your preferences and budget.