We all have those days when you just end up throwing anything you can get your hands on into the kids’ lunch boxes to get out the door on time! Preparation the night before is highly recommended – especially when popping in too many convenience foods or ‘treat’ items becomes a regular habit.
Taking a little more time to consider what goes into the lunch boxes not only reduces the stress levels, it also means we can plan more nutritious and healthy options.
The importance of a healthy lunch box
Children are full of energy and can be incredibly active – not to mention they are also growing at rapid rates and learning continuously. It is therefore vitally important to provide kids with nutrient dense, healthy food options throughout the day, to help them thrive both in and out of the classroom.
For school aged children, the lunchbox makes up a significant part of the diet and should be seen as a way to boost your child’s intake of vitamins, minerals and nutrients, rather than a time for treat foods which tend to provide energy but are often lacking in essential nutrients.
Healthy and easy lunchbox ideas!
- Cut fresh fruit into colourful combinations and shapes and thread onto toothpicks for a fresh fruit kebab. Keep in mind that fruits are high in natural sugars so it is recommended that children have no more than 2 serves per day (fruit juice not included).
- Frozen pottles of yoghurt will be deliciously slushy for school and also help keep the rest of the lunchbox foods cool and fresh (look for reduced fat and low sugar yoghurt varieties).
- Half a cup of natural unsweetened yoghurt combined with fresh, canned or stewed fruit, nuts and seeds makes for a tasty and nutritious lunchbox snack.
- Scroggin mix – an assortment of nuts, seeds and dried fruits. This is a high energy snack, great for fueling active little bodies, but limit serving sizes to roughly ¼ of a cup.
- Get into some weekend baking with the kids, baking mini fruit and bran muffins is not only fun and interactive but will help keep you all fed for the busy week ahead. Muffins can easily be popped in the freezer and pulled out on school mornings.
- Fresh vegetable assortment, including carrot, celery pieces, cherry tomatoes, and a few cheese cubes, little pieces make for fun and easy eating, can also be served with low fat cottage cheese or hummus.
- Grainy crackers served with a couple of cheese slices, hummus, cottage cheese, guacamole or tomato salsa.
- Hard boiled eggs are a source of protein to help keep small tummies satisfied.
- Mini sandwiches, cut into triangles with assorted salad and meat fillings or spreads. Try using whole grain or whole meal, and high fibre varieties over white. Alternatively, to keep things interesting you could try bread rolls, wraps or pita pockets.
- A small tub of cherry tomatoes – these are absolutely delicious!
- Fruit loaf, or a fruit & nut muesli bar cut into smaller pieces – these are energy dense so by cutting into smaller pieces children can eat throughout the day.
- Bliss balls – have fun on the weekend and get the kids involved in rolling these little balls of goodness, there are numerous tasty recipes available, most consisting of a base of dates with added nuts, seeds, dried fruits, coconut, the possibilities are endless. These do have a high energy content so it is best to limit to a couple of small balls per serve. The balls can be stored for a couple of weeks the fridge or even longer in the freezer and popped in the lunchbox as needed.
- Check out the Healtheries range of KidsCare® snacks which are lower in fats than regular potato chips and are great as a tasty and convenient option in the lunchbox or when you are on the go.
- Fluids, last but not least – it is so important to keep your child well hydrated, and not only during the summer season. Water, with a dash of fruit juice or squeeze of fresh lemon are all refreshing and healthy options.
The following is a summary of recommendations from The New Zealand Food and Nutrition Guidelines for children. These guidelines recommend the number of serves of each of the four food groups to aim for each day, to help children reach their nutrient needs. These guidelines can be helpful when planning school lunches, to ensure children are getting the variety and recommended amounts of nutritious foods.
|Food group||Daily recommended serves||Examples|
|Fruit and vegetables:
Different colours and textures
|2+ serves of fruit
3+ serves of vegetables
|About one handful
2 small or 1 large fruit
1 medium potato or kumara
1/2 cup of salad or vegetables
|Breads and cereals:
Increase wholegrain products as children increase in age
|5 serves for children
6 serves for older children
|1 slice of bread
1 roll, pita or wrap
1/2 cup of oat muesli/porridge
1 cup cooked pasta or rice
4 grain based crackers
|Milk and milk products, or suitable calcium fortified alternatives:
Preferably reduced or low-fat options
|2-3 serves for children
3 serves for older children
|1 glass of milk
1 pottle of yoghurt
2 slices of cheese
|Lean meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds||1-2 serves for children
2 serves for older children
|100g cooked meat
3/4 cup cooked mince, beans or lentils
90g tin of tuna or salmon
1/3 cup nuts or seeds (50g)
Source: Ministry of Health. 2012. Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Children and Young People (Aged 2-18 Years) A Background Paper. Wellington: Ministry of Health. Retrieved from www.health.govt.nz
The information contained in this article was written by Emma Baldwin and originally published for Healtheries. It is reproduced here with permission with editing by Kidspot NZ.