As busy families are aware – putting together the daily school lunch box is an ongoing challenge. Not only in terms of trying to make it as healthy, varied and interesting as possible – but also keeping it tasty enough that it comes home empty.
Given the specific daily nutritional requirements of school aged children, it’s really important that the content of their lunch boxes meets their daily needs and provides them with the necessary energy to sustain them throughout the day.
This means that the school lunch box should be looked at as more than something to simply fill little tummies – rather it’s an opportunity to support their healthy growth and development, improve their ability to concentrate and boost energy levels for physical activities.
Ideally, our kids’ daily lunch box should contain a serve of quality protein, one to two serves of a slow-release carbohydrate, two to three vegetables, a single serve of a healthy fat and a calcium-rich food. Aim for variety and colour, include your kids in menu planning and involve them in the shopping and preparation – these are great ways to encourage and create enthusiasm. I generally recommend that fruit also be included as a morning or afternoon snack, to keep blood sugar levels in check.
Using a well-designed lunch box that’s easy to open and contains a variety of compartments is very helpful. I’m a big fan of bento style lunch boxes, as they promote variety, and children love choosing what they’d like to eat first. A smaller range of different options is less intimidating for kids, and enables parents to offer new foods along with firm favourites – a strategy I recommend for fussy eaters.
In the summer months a well-insulated lunchbox is vital – anything from an ice brick to a frozen, reusable yoghurt pouch can work well in keeping the contents cool. In the winter months it’s worthwhile investing in a good thermos style container for warm meals.
To begin, follow these basics:
LISTEN: Andrew Daddo still makes his teen’s lunches. Is it endearing, or a parenting fail? He discusses with Holy Wainwright, on our podcast for imperfect parents. Post continues after audio.
1. Protein (1 serving).
Protein requirements differ at different ages, based on the body’s need for growth and repair. Young children need more protein than adults per kilogram of bodyweight. This often equates to children eating one to two serves of good quality protein on a daily basis. As a rough guide, children between one to three years require around 13g of protein per day, and children four to eight years need 19g of protein per day.
The best sources of lunchbox protein are lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs and good quality dairy products, plus vegetable proteins such as legumes, beans and seeds. My advice is to avoid processed deli meats whenever possible, because they are excessively high in sodium and also contain nitrates and nitrites.
For fussy eaters, protein is often problematic as favourites such as jam, Vegemite and honey sandwiches (which contain little to no protein) are usually preferred. In my book, I offer numerous strategies that encourage fussy eaters to start enjoying a wider variety of protein-rich school-friendly choices.