Recent research by Leeds University into the packed lunches of primary school children in the UK, found that only 1.6% met nutritional standards advised by the government. Researchers who looked at over 300 lunchboxes in 12 different English primary schools discovered there were not enough vegetables and too many sweet snacks and sugary drinks.
School food statutory standards were set in 2006 due to growing evidence linking poor health in adults with obesity or poor diet in children. Since then, school food has to meet certain limits of salt, sugar and fats and although its not regulated – the same goes for packed lunches. From my experience of school meals, I believe there is still a long way to go to meet healthy nutritional standards. Some primary schools are still serving huge sugary puddings including jelly and ice cream (one reason cited is that it’s necessary to meet the required calorie intake target set for each child!). So it’s all very well blaming the parents for their packed lunches but maybe the bar needs to be set higher in schools in order for parents to follow suit?
This year, I experienced the extra work and stress involved with providing a packed lunch for my 7 year old daughter. It’s no easy task and that’s coming from someone who works in food and nutrition! So I have put together a few tips and pointers to help take the stress out of the school pack up. Because despite the extra effort it takes, the reward lies in the wonderful feeling of seeing her empty lunchbox come back and knowing she has been nourished throughout her day.
- Sit down with your child and make a packed lunch meal plan, I always think it’s best to provide them with a meal they really want to eat where possible!
- No surprises! I find its best to give them the meal at home first to try it out, rather than trying a new meal on the day. Once it gets the thumbs up then it goes on the packed lunch menu. This process, although time consuming at first, will help you make a packed lunch they will eat.
- Presentation is important! Consider getting a lunch box with different sections which you can fill with lovely things. I like these https://elephantbox.co.uk/ and also these https://www.amazon.co.uk/LunchBots-Quad-Stainless-Steel-Container/dp/B006T5BLQM A flask is good for hot food too: http://www.jojomamanbebe.co.uk/thermos-foogo-insulated-stainless-steel-jars-b9072.html
- The main portion of the lunch doesn’t always have to be a sandwich! Quinoa salad, hot pasta (this sardine pasta is always a hit even with fussy children!) soups & stews in a thermal flask (minestrone soup), cold pasta salad – maybe with some homemade pesto, pitta bread, wraps, cold noodle salad will all work.
- Avoid white refined carbohydrates, that’s things like bread sticks, white bread, white crackers. Choose wholegrain breads such as rye or spelt and oatcakes or flax crackers and wholegrain wraps instead.
- Include at least 3 vegetables in the pack up. One of them could be within the main meal, then include 2 more raw veggies on the side such as carrot, cucumber sticks, red pepper, celery, tomatoes, roasted sweet potato wedges, steamed corn on the cob are a few ideas.
- Include healthy fats in the lunchbox. Things like hummus (great to go with vegetable sticks as an addition to their main dish), olives, avocado, hard boiled eggs, frittata or omelette strips and oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and fresh anchovies. Tuna is high in mercury so not a good option for children.
- Ensure there is protein within the main meal, such as hummus, egg, fish, meat, chicken, lentils, beans and quinoa. This helps to keep their blood sugar balanced which helps with concentration, energy and mood!
- For a bit of crunch, seaweed crispies are a good option instead of crisps. You can either buy these or make a them by briefly toasting nori sheets brushed with some coconut oil and a sprinkle of tamari sauce (like soya sauce but glutenfree). I also like these broccoli crisps http://www.hollandandbarrett.com/shop/product/the-giving-tree-broccoli-crisps-60002879 and am a fan of munchy seeds https://www.munchyseeds.co.uk/product/savoury-crunch/ Just add a small portion in a pot, rather than a whole bag of them. It’s more about giving an alternative texture. Homemade popcorn is a fun, crunchy option too, preferably cooked in coconut oil.
- Dessert can be a piece of fruit, or you could consider making some healthy sweet treats. This doesn’t have to be too time consuming as it can be things you make for pudding at home. Try apple sauce with some seeds to sprinkle on, coconut or regular probiotic yoghurt with some fresh berries, or blueberry avocado mousse and cherry chocolate oat slice. If you are pushed for time here are some shop bought ideas: sesame halva, nak’d bars, nom bars all available online and from health shops. Look for healthy snacks preferably sweetened with dried fruit, rice syrup or stevia. Avoid anything with glucose syrup and refined white sugar.
- Make it work for you. I find doing two days in a row with the same packed lunch makes it much more achievable for me. So if you can identify 2 or 3 different menu options then it becomes much easier and less time consuming to build this into your routine. Prepare as much as possible, the night before so it’s less stress to compile it in the morning.
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