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Healthy lunch boxes.
What is required and what it takes

Children have unique nutritional needs. Not only must they meet their requirements for daily activity, they need to meet the requirements for growth and development. It is essential that our children get all the nutrients they need to help them reach their full potential. The earlier we start the better, as making up for poor nutrition in childhood can be very hard. Hard to change beliefs around food and repair and heal a body that may be deficient.

Parents/carers have the important role of influencing the food choices for children. Having an understanding your self helps you create an understanding with your children as to why healthy food choices will benefit them, now and in the future. So a parent needs to be educated and informed on the essential nutrients crucial to development.

Hunger and food insufficiency in children is associated with poor behavioural and academic functioning. Children need good foods to help them get through their school day. A child roughly consumes at least ¼ -1/2 of the food they eat in a day a school. This is why its essential it is the right food. Lunch boxes should not replace a balanced diet, but be part of the daily balanced diet a child eats.

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Eating fresh foods packed with vitamins and minerals is ten times better than taking supplements. Most fruits and vegetables also contain the fibre needed to eliminate wastes and regulate body processes. Eating whole, unprocessed foods contain all the essential nutrients. The tip to creating a balanced diet is to constantly easting a wide range of fruits, vegetables and food groups. Including in your diet a wide range of fruit and vegetables will ensure a wide range of minerals and vitamins. Simple!!

Children will spend up to 12 years in school for up to 8 hours per day consuming ¼ -1/2  their daily requirements of foods. In a single day they will be using their bodies, their brains and their energy.  It is essential the food that is packed for our children contains as many essential nutrients as possible and has a variety of foods that contain energy. Morning tea snacks provide brain food, main lunch provides energy to get them through until they get home. All this nutrition will lead to healthy engaged children who perform well. And most importantly they enjoy their lunch!

 

Those whose nutritional needs are not met by their lunch box may become tired and disinterested, become fidgety, not be able to concentrate, have rumbling tummies, their moods and temperament change, behavioural turns and emotions play out and they become irritated and wanting the day to end. This is hard on the teacher and classmates as well as child itself.

                                

The essential nutrients and how you can include them in lunch boxes

Here is a brief summary and how you can include them in your children's lunch box

Water: Although it is not actually a nutrient, without it, there would be no life. More than 60% of the body is water. We need nearly 2L per day from water, and from water found in fruits and vegetables. Water is needed in the body to transport nutrients, for digestion and elimination of wastes. It keeps you moving freely and it also regulates your temperature so you stay cool when hot (by sweating).

Ways to increase water in your child’s lunch box. A bottle of water is all a child needs to drink at school. A drink of water is the best thirst quencher. The following could help to encourage fussy water drinkers…try spring water (purchased or collected) filter chlorinated or fluoridated water so it doesn't taste so terrible, Freeze the water bottle so it is cool, try squeezing lime or lemon into the bottle. Do not add cordial, this is high in sugar and can lead to tooth decay.

 

Carbohydrates: The main energy source for the body. All carbohydrates break down into glucose in the body. Glucose satisfies the energy needs of the body cells and give you energy to feel good, be happy and have lots of energy.  Consuming wholegrain, fruit and vegetables you will produce energy. Simple carbohydrates gives energy very quickly (rise in blood sugar) followed by a quick decline. Cane sugar, fruit, honey, milk, and malt. Complex (dietary fibre) carbohydrates helps get rid of body wastes, provide a steady rise in blood sugar (energy) and includes starch and dietary fibre which provides food for bacteria in the colon and eliminates wastes and regulates the intestines. When it comes to consuming carbohydrates avoid refined carbohydrates (mostly simple carbohydrates those complex whole foods that have been refined (wheat into white flour, sugar cane into raw sugar). They do not provide a healthy sustained energy and are damaging to health long term and should be avoided and limited

The best sources of carbohydrates include: Whole grain breads, rice, legumes, raw vegetables and fruits with skin on, seeds and nuts.

Ways to include in your child's lunch box: You can met these by including at least 2 pieces of fruit and 1 vegetables snack. You can the include complex carbohydrates through sandwiches, crackers, home made muffins and a handful of nuts and seeds. 

Protein: The main structural materials in your body (bones and muscle) are made of amino acids (the building blocks). They are used for energy. You need proteins so you can run around all day with energy and you body can recover quickly if you happen to get sick or hurt yourself. Proteins are essential for most of the body’s vital functions including growth, maintenance and repair of cells. Every cell in your body needs protein, it helps create enzymes that enable us to digest food, produce antibodies when we are sick. We need to eat protein so we have a supply of amino acids to rebuild out bodies.

 Best sources of animal protein include: meat, fish, poultry, cheese, eggs, milk 

Plant based proteins include: Nuts, seeds, grains and legumes, spirulina, chlorella and tofu.

Note: For vegetarians or vegans it is important to have complete proteins to be able to provide a full range of amino acids. Complete vegetarian protein includes, bean with brown rice, cheese, nuts or seeds, and grains with either cheese, legumes and green is good.

Ways to include protein in your child’s lunch box. Try snacks of chopped cheese and nuts, cubed tofu in tamari, a chicken wing or drumstick on its own, a small container of yoghurt, some brown rice with dahl.

Lipids- Fats are essential to the body as they supply us with energy, a happy feeling when we are full, keep our skin healthy, regulate body functions (especially your brain as you are growing) as well as transporting the vitamins around the body. It is important to eat the right type of fats; those that help us function normally. There is so much confusion around healthy fats and misleading bodies have damaged the reputation of saturated fats which in fact are great for the body as they are pure forms and easy to break down. The hydrogenation of fats (the adding of hydrogen to make something liquid solid) creates trans fat which is damaging to the body and should be avoided at all costs. Trans fats are found in margarines, processed foods (pastries, cakes etc.). There are only two oils that should be heated, those being coconut oil and olive oil (low temperatures only)

Best sources of fats include: nuts, seeds, cold pressed and unrefined oils, avocados  hempseed and oil, flaxseed and chia, olive oil, coconut flesh, and oil. The saturated fat from meats should be eaten in moderation.

Ways to include fats into your child's lunchbox. Try putting avocado in sandwiches  in guacamole or on crackers, chia seed pudding with fruit, a handful of nuts or bliss balls (if allowed) and grated coconut sprinkled on other food. 

 

Vitamins: Enables chemical reactions that are needed by the body. They help the other nutrients to give the body energy and are related directly to growth and well being. If you do not have the vitamins in your body, your body cannot function properly. All vitamins come directly from food vitamins are either fat-soluble or water soluble meaning how they travel around the body.

Minerals: Critical for nerve functions, cellular processes, water balancing and structural system. 16 or more minerals are needed by the body are essential as they are vital to the functioning of something in the body that no other mineral can do and must come from food. They strengthen the bones and teeth, maintain a healthy immune system and help the vitamins to do their work.

Ways to increase vitamins and minerals into your child’s lunchbox. Include in your child’s lunchbox every day at least two different serves of fruit and at least 1-2 serving of vegetables. By constantly eating a variety of fruits and vegetables a wide range of vitamin and minerals enter the body and can be broken down to release their nutrients. If a child is picky, try disguising fruits and vegetables into their lunch boxes, finely chopped vegetables in sauces, pastas, rice dishes etc. Also try to present vegetables in an appealing way. 

 

How to promote healthy eating

All children have the potential to enjoy a healthy diet. Children are more likely to develop good eating habits and behaviours and attitudes if they have been offered a wide range of healthy foods since birth.  However even if they have not been offered this as their first food choices, anything is possible. With patience, perseverance, a good attitude and a little creativity, a child’s preferences can be influenced to make better food choices.

 

Make a clear distinction between Everyday healthy food choices, and the “sometimes” foods. “Everyday “ healthy  food includes all the essential nutrients a growing body needs to develop and when your children are older these foods are also what continues to give energy, help to regulate the body (including hormones) help them stay healthy, heal quickly and allow them to function well in a busy world. The “sometimes” foods a high in unhealthy fats, sugars, salt and do not contain essential nutrients. “Sometimes” foods are “empty foods” meaning they contain nothing to helps growth and development. Discuss this with your children.  Children should be able to enjoy these sometimes foods, we know they are delicious and exciting, however parents have the responsibility of ensuring children know the difference between something that tastes so yummy to something that tastes yummy and makes your body feel great. The aim being that our children will make healthy food choices on their own. If sometimes foods are offered (such at birthday parties, BBQ’s, tuck shop, movies etc.) offer also healthier food choices such as carrot stick and dips, crackers etc. Note: Remember if a child is being given a sometimes food everyday, it is not a sometimes food it has become an everyday food. Not a good habit to get into.

 

Establish healthy eating routines.

A healthy diet does not only include eating foods that are good for you, it is also about eating at regular times. This allows the body to work in a rhythmical way and this rhythm encourages stable health. Eating routines include: Eating breakfast everyday, eating meals at regular times, and snack at regular times too. (This is easily done at school so that’s why the lunch box guide works so well.) Eat meals together as a family if possible and allow as much time as possible for meals so they can be eating in a relaxed and unhurried way. 

 

Praising children when they choose healthy food choices. For children that have been offered only healthy choices since they first began eating, this will be so normal you would just be encouraging and praising the general eating behaviours  For those that are transitioning or being offered new foods they may not be used to praise is crucial in building healthy self-esteem associated with healthy food choices. They are making good food choices that will benefit their bodies and brains so encouragement such as “you chose a banana for your snack today. "That’s a great choice. Bananas are delicious!” or if a child chooses a carrot stick to munch on after school, “What a great choice, your eyesight will be great tonight. Did you know carrots are full of vitamin A and that helps your eyesight.” Even young children can learn the importance of nutrition. A parent can simply encourage healthy eating beliefs by saying “This tastes great and will make you healthy and big and strong.“ Praising children when they have eaten everything in their lunchbox, even a reward system can help encourage lunchbox eating.

Note: if a child comes home continuously with an empty lunchbox but you are suspicious they have not eaten everything, as they may be wanting to please or wanting a reward ask them to make sure they leave the empty wrapping, cores and scraps in their lunch box as perhaps you have chooks or worms or a compost bin. This will deter the idea of chucking whole foods in bins, swapping or selling foods and other methods of hiding foods just for rewards. Important to note too that the reward should not be sometimes food. A walk in their favourite park or game or book to read is a better reward.

 

Avoid power struggles. We all want the best for our children and even though we may know healthy foods are good and tasty, children who have not been introduced regularly may have trouble adapting so keep trying new things or ways to present foods. By creating a power struggle or a fear in children that  they must eat it because “mum or dad said” will not teach a child to eat because it is good for them, it only sends the message to “eat it or else ill get into trouble”. This will not be helpful when a child is older as they will see those foods as punishment or parent said foods and even rebel against eating them instead. The aim of creating healthy eating habits is to help a child understand the benefits of eating a balanced healthy diet, which they choose because they value their own healthy and their body. If a child is constantly rejecting new foods offered or refusing to try new foods,  never give up offering the new foods or assuming they don't like it. Try offering the same foods in different ways and different days. One day they may try them. Generally it is recommended for success in introducing foods or encouraging healthy habits is to involve children in preparing and planning of foods, making it a family habit to eat healthy choices EVERYDAY, even the presentation can influence a child’s instant desire to try or to instantly dislike. So keep trying….

Set a good example, actions speak louder than words. Parents who have a healthy diet are more likely to encourage healthy eating habits in their own children. Children learn from imitation. What they see you do, they copy. A child learns more from a parent does than what a parent says. Healthy eating habits need to involve a whole family. Let your children be involved in the menu planning, the shopping and preparing of foods for their lunch boxes.

 

Social eating: Peer pressure can influence a child’s willingness to change their lunchbox menu items. It may take time to change your child’s preferences, but do not give up. If only healthy food choices are offered they will learn to make healthier food choices by themselves and become proud of the fact they are looking after their bodies.  When they are evolving towards puberty a healthy diet will reduce the effects of hormone changes (less pimples less mood swings) and this will benefit everybody!  

 

Going the long distance: It is so important to get it right. Your child will be at school for up to 12 years of their life. Constantly re-creating new ideas for lunch boxes and keeping up with food preference changes, peer pressure influences, hormones, changes in a child’s situations etc. all influence the ability to be able to enjoy creating and eating a lunchbox.  If a child learns from an early age how to create a lunchbox and choose healthy foods as lunchbox options, then as they get older and make their own lunch boxes  a habit and pattern will have been developed where they will choose things that help their body.  Discuss with your children what food they prefer to eat, (use the guide as an example), is their lunch box providing them with enough food, too much? Are they feeling tired in the afternoon? (More protein needed or larger lunch) constant discussion on their lunch box will bring better results and happier lunch box eaters.  Encourage your children to bring home any uneaten foods (making sure this is not punishment if they haven’t eaten anything) so you can see what is happening inside lunch boxes during school times.

 

The cost of a lunch box. For some the idea of spending money on fresh fruit and vegetables for lunch boxes seems a bit tight. However if your child is receiving the benefits of a diet packed full with vitamins, minerals and the other essential nutrients, they are less likely to get sick, which is saving you money at the doctors, health foods stores or pharmacies and prescriptions. There are ways to keep costs down. By purchasing fruits in season when they are in abundance brings the costs down considerable, cooking extra of a simple food such a rice one night and adding peas and eggs the next morning for a rice dish, means healthy meals for lunch boxes do not need to cost the earth. Get  creative. This is your child’s health we are talking about!

 

Choosing fresh organic foods. We have such a wide range of food choices these days. It is relatively easy to choose a wide variety of foodstuffs. There are plenty of gluten free options, and dairy free options for those with intolerances. Organic and biodynamics are found in nearly every supermarket nowadays and health food stores, local markets and food co-op are sprouting up everywhere to help make food choices available for everyone.

 

Notes in lunch boxes  Leaving notes in a child’s lunchbox so when they open it they get a surprise will create not only laughs, warm fuzzy feelings in your child, it will create a healthy and exciting attitude about their lunchbox. The note could be about a specific thing in the lunch box, or about something you are proud that they have down, could be words of encouragement about eating lunch, something they are looking forward too, a silly joke, a quiz or riddle, etc. the possibilities of notes are endless.

Before you start with lunch box packing:

 

Check school policies on allowable foods It is important to check with your school or centre for “allowable food” policies on certain foods that may not be allowed.  Peanuts for example or eggs. This is usually to protect a child who has severe allergies and are at a high risk if they come into contact with these foods. (Many schools and centres are peanut free so double check this)

 

And what about lunchbox storage containers? A healthy lunchbox full of healthy food choices is essential for growing children. There is also the lunchbox container issue in which the foods are stored for up to 10 hours per day! In recent years research has provided us with information on the health risks and dangers of plastic containers (see products section…) and bottles. Do your research. (https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/sya-bpa/index.cfm) Purchase containers that are BPA free and are safe for your children. Purchasing a good lunch box is a good investment. It will last a child for years. I personally have for my three children a lunch box inside an insulated lunch box bag, which keeps my children’s lunches safe (from risk of contamination as it stays cool) and also protects it as its taken in a car, bus, playground etc.

 

And food safety must be mentioned When preparing foods, whether you are preparing lunch boxes or your children are helping or by themselves a few food safety points to remember:

Encourage children to wash hands before and after preparing food

Supervise children at all times if they are near a stove or using hot water, knives

Any perishable items to be used in a lunch box need to be consumed within four hours or have a freezer block in lunchbox to keep cool. (Perishables include meat, dairy, leftovers, poultry or seafood)

Lunch boxes  are away from home for up to 10 hours. They should be kept in a cool place, preferable a fridge but if that’s not an option then freezer packs or blocks are best suited for the job of keeping your children’s lunch boxes safe.

If you don’t do it already, and you have not purchased organics fresh foods, it is important to wash all fruits and vegetables for consumption. This reduces risks of microbial contamination. Peeling the skin off some fruits associated with herbicides and pesticides can reduce amount of contact.

When creating a hot meal in the morning for a lunch box (say fried rice) make sure it is cooled down before you close the lid. (This will reduce risks of contamination)

 

Here are some tips as to how to keep the lunchbox fresh and exciting.

Keep the items small enough they could eat on the go, or eat quickly.

Cut bread into smaller portions so it is easier to handle

Use bread shape cutters to make interesting shaped sandwiches

Ensure fruits are either chopped, sliced.

Whole fruit needs to be easy for the child to handle in one hand

Make sure containers (see product section) are not like fort Knox to get into. Nothing worse than envisioning your child spending half their lunchtime with a stick trying to crowbar open their container.

Waxed paper or purchasing sandwich cloth wraps and bees wax wraps is better than plastic. Less pollution is created and it is easier for children to manage.

Yoghurt, berries and others foods can be frozen and will defrost slowly  

Leftover dinners are perfect for school lunches

When cooking dinner cook extra staples (rice, pasta, noodles, etc.) so they can be used to make a quick lunch the next morning

Place notes in your child’s lunchbox. (Anything from words of praise, quotes, a riddle or puzzle or just an “I love you” with kisses)

Children do not like eating soggy or damaged foods. Packing correctly can ensure successful and happy eating by your child.  To avoid sogginess place wet foods such as tomatoes, carrots, beetroot etc. on the inside of the sandwich between other layers not on the bread itself. Wrap well.

Avocado's, peeled and sliced apples may need to have lemon drizzled on them to prevent discolouration

If you are having trouble introducing a new food try disguising it in favourite dishes (lasagna, spaghetti Bolognese, pasties, sauces, soups, muffins etc.)