It is that time of year again…….schools back! And with the annual stationery and new shoe run too comes the influx of ideas for busy parents on how to pack a nutritious and appealing lunchbox for small children, which should be said is no easy feat. Considering though that growing children do consume up to 30% of their total calories while they are at school, what we pack them each day is important. So here are the easiest steps to take to pack a healthy yet child friendly lunchbox, and the best packaged snacks out there if you are looking for some guidance.
The easiest way to pack a nutritionally balanced lunchbox is to think of it in terms of compartments or sections. This way you will ensure you have enough items in the lunch but also the right nutritional balance.
A well balanced lunchbox will include:
1. Sandwich, wrap or crackers
Remember that wholegrain and whole meal varieties of breads and crisp breads are best. Try to also include a protein rich filling such as ham, tuna, chicken breast or egg on sandwiches as the protein helps to keep kids full throughout the afternoon.
2. Piece of fruit
Fresh fruit is always best as dried fruit, fruit juice, fruit sticks and straps are high in sugar and digested quickly. Remember that grapes should be sliced for children under the age of 5.
3. Dairy food
Dairy foods including milk, cheese, yoghurt and dairy snacks provide both calcium and protein for healthy bones, teeth and growth. Look for the very few yogurts that do not contain added sugar where possible.
Aim for snacks to contain <400kJ or 100cal per serve and options that are made from whole grains – see list detailed below. Naturally homemade snacks such as banana bread or mini muffins are better options nutritionally if you do have time to make them
Water should always be the drink of choice for children. Fruit juice, cordial and flavoured waters are high in sugar and not consumed regularly.
Research on Australian children’s lunchboxes has found that on average children are consuming three packaged snacks such as muesli bars, cheese and dip packs, fruit twists, potato chips and snack bars, which is too many. Snack foods are often highly processed food choices that offer little nutritionally. For this reason it is suggested that at most children consume one packaged snack food each day. Good snack food choices contain dietary fibre, whole grains and/or protein and contain <400kJ or 100 calories per serve.
If you are worried that you child’s lunchbox does not contain enough “fun” foods, consider letting your child choose his/her snacks once each week and negotiate healthy choices for the remainder of the week.
To keep lunchboxes at the right temperature, look for freezer style cooler packs or try freezing an ice block or tetra style drink and pack with the lunch to keep it fresh.
One of the biggest issues in relation to children’s lunchbox choices is that they have too much choice. Limit your child’s choice to just one or two food items to avoid starting a never ending negotiation about all the different type of food that you can include in the lunchbox.
The better packaged snack food options
Found in the health food section, these wholegrain snacks are gluten free, contain just 90 calories per serve and the kids will actually eat them.
Kids Roasted Fav-va Beans
A great choice nutritionally thanks to the high protein content – with 3g of protein, 1g of fibre, no sugar for just 70cal this product is a great balance of a naturally flavoured packaged snack food that kids will actually enjoy eating.
Sunbites Air Popped Popcorn
With <80 calories per serve, 2g of fibre and no added sugars, popcorn is a great lunchbox filler.
Milo Energy Snack Bars
With <5g of added sugars (about the lowest you can find in a kids snack), just 80calories and almost 2g of fibre, this popular brand combines some nutrition with a child friendly product.
In the health food section, a low sugar, gluten free bar option for <100calories.
Another popcorn option.
If you can find them, these are a good choice with just 80 calories and a relatively low amount of sugar compared to traditional biscuit style snacks for kids.
With just 4g of sugars per pack and fewer than 80 calories these gluten free snacks are child friendly, nut free and taste great
One of the only yoghurt tubes for kids that does not contain ANY added sugar