Now the school year is underway, parents across the county are thinking – what do I pack in the lunch box? And how do I make it healthy as well as something my child will eat?
Whether new to this or needing some inspiration, having some tips and ideas is helpful. Use the information below to make it easier to create a healthy lunch box that your child will enjoy.
Eating nutritious food at school helps fuel brains for learning, bodies for moving, and sets kids up for good healthy eating habits.
Which foods to include
Aim to include foods from each of the following categories. The amount of food will depend on your child’s age, appetite, and activity level. Think about what your child will eat for recess and for lunch (and crunch & sip if applicable). Note if your school has any recommendations regarding lunch box foods eg no nuts, no single use packaging.
|Fruit||Fresh is preferred over dried or juice
Cut fruit up if needed
Check it won’t get squashed or go mushy in the lunch box
|Raw or cooked
Cut up (eg sticks or cubes) or have whole
Include different colours
Eat separately or have with other foods (eg sandwich or salad)
Fresh is preferable but tinned can also be used
|Eat separately or have with other foods
Hot or cold
Plant milks (note – not all are a good source of protein)
Mock or vegan meats such as vegan sausages or deli slices can be used sometimes
|Legumes – plain or flavoured (eg chickpeas, lentils, butter beans, kidney beans, 4 bean mix)
Nuts (if school allows)
Seeds (sesame, pepita, sunflower, chia)
Plant milk (not all are high in protein)
|A good source of carbohydrate. Some foods in other categories also provide carbohydrate (eg legumes, fruit)
Wholegrain or wholemeal varieties provide more fibre, vitamins and minerals than white
|Bread – regular, wraps, pita, lebanese etc
Water is the preferred drink. Even if including another drink such as plant milk, always send a water bottle too.
Including good sources of calcium and iron will help your child reach their daily requirement. Examples include: legumes, tofu, whole grains, plant milks (fortified with calcium), leafy greens, figs, nuts and seeds.
Be aware that some foods may be very high in salt, particularly processed foods. Aim to avoid these, choosing lower salt options instead.
Consider the following:
- Is the food easy to eat? Will your child be able to eat it in the time provided? Schools allow a specific amount time for eating so ensure foods do not require a long time to prepare or eat. Younger kids or those with missing or wobbly teeth may also have trouble eating some foods (eg whole apples).
- Is the food easy to get out of the container or packet? Check that this is not a barrier to eating and do trial runs at home if needed.
- Will the food be kept at the right temperature at school? Think about the weather, ice-packs, thermos containers, and where lunch boxes are stored at school. Keeping food at the correct temperature is important for food hygiene as well as enjoyment.
- Does your child like the food in their lunch box? Sticking to foods you know they like means they’re more likely to eat them. New foods can be tried at other times instead. However, a lunch box doesn’t need to be filled with favourite foods – your child might not love vegies but they should still be encouraged to eat the ones they prefer. Try involving children in picking what goes in the lunch box, or have them choose between two options.
Many lunch box items don’t require cooking as they are whole foods. For those that do, there are lots of ideas available on the internet, Facebook, Instagram, cookbooks etc. Don’t disregard non-vegan recipes as they can often be easily adapted.
Limit the use of processed packaged snacks as reliance on these can mean a lunch box lower in nutritional value. If time poor, try planning ahead, cooking in bulk, and freezing foods, so you are likely to have healthy lunch box items on hand.
Some ideas of prepared foods include:
- rice paper rolls
- pesto pasta
- home-made leftovers eg pizza, burger patties
- muffins – sweet or savoury
- salad eg bean/noodle/pasta/rice salad
While important to provide high nutritional value foods, don’t worry too much if some days don’t quite hit the mark. School is generally covering two meal times (three if crunch & sip is included) so there is still plenty of opportunity for added nutrition over the rest of the day.
If the lunch box or school setting doesn’t suit your child’s preferences for a food type, then make up for it at other meals. For example, your child may currently be only eating a limited range of fruit presented in a certain way (such as mango on the skin, or soft chopped pear) which doesn’t necessarily fare well in a lunch box. While using strategies to encourage a wider variety of fruit, it’s ok in the meantime to not pack fruit in the lunch box and instead give fruit at other meal times.
Often food preferences are constantly changing. Working with these preferences to ensure nutrition needs are met while also encouraging a move to eating a greater variety of foods of different colours and textures, will assist in healthy eating and good relationships with food in the long term.
Teachers and other carers
Schools may hold class parties where food is shared or provided, or lollies may be given to students by some teachers. Consider communicating with your child’s teacher and/or school about managing situations such as these.
If your child attends before or after school care where meals are provided, it may be helpful to give the centre a list of foods your child does and doesn’t eat and suggestions of alternatives. This can help both your child receive appropriate food and give the carers guidance on what to offer.
A lunch box packed with nutritious food that your child enjoys will continue to change and look different over the years, as their preferences and nutritional needs change. However, the tips above will hopefully make the daily school routine of preparing a lunch box easier as well ensure your child receives healthy nutritious food to meet their growing needs.
If you require more specific nutritional assistance you can contact me to arrange an individual dietitian consult http://www.botanicnutrition.net.au/contact/