Packing a Nutritious Punch: Tips for a Healthy School Lunchbox on Central Coast

by LukeAdmin

By Kylie Spicer, Accredited Practising Dietitian

As the holiday period comes to an end, parents begin to think about the kids going back to school and all that is needed. Do school lunches become the bane of your existence? Do you find it challenging to think of healthy options? Do your kids fuss over what you pack for them? The school holidays as well as weekends, are an excellent time to prepare the kids to eat healthier at school. This can then make packing nutritious lunches easier each day.

A healthy lunchbox: why is it important?
Finding time to shop for, prepare and pack healthy, appealing lunches for our kids can be a massive challenge for many parents, between fussy kids or food fatigue, trying to choose foods that aren’t full of sugar but are still tasty enough to not be thrown in the bin and choosing foods that will stay safe in their lunchboxes throughout the day. However, the importance of packing a healthy lunchbox is immeasurable. A lunchbox full of fresh food gives your child the energy to play, concentrate and learn all day. Higher levels of sustained concentration mean that kids can more readily retain information and therefore learn.

Did you know that a child’s school lunchbox holds about one–third of their daily nutrients and provides all the energy they need to get through an action packed day?

So what should go in a healthy lunchbox?

  • 1 serving of fruit, e.g. grapes, apple slices or rings, any berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries), a medium banana or a fruit cup in its natural juice
  • 2 vegetables, e.g. carrot coins or sticks, cucumber, celery sticks or moons, green beans, snow peas, sugar snap peas, broccoli, capsicum strips, asparagus spears, lettuce or grape tomatoes
  • 1 healthy protein, e.g. beans (chickpeas, baked beans, lentils), Edamame, nuts, seeds, peanut butter (if the school allows), hummus, veggie burger, roasted turkey or chicken slices, or a hard boiled egg
  • 1 healthy wholegrain, e.g. whole grain pasta, bread, crackers, brown rice, quinoa, steel–cut oats, and other minimally processed whole grains
  • 1 serve dairy, e.g. unflavoured milk, plain Greek yogurt, small amounts of cheese like cottage cheese and string cheese. For dairy–free options, try soy milk and soy yogurt, which contain similar amounts of calcium, protein, and vitamin D as dairy milk
  • Water, a large bottle (or 2 smaller bottles) of water that can be sipped throughout the day. If your child prefers chilled water, consider freezing a bottle half filled with water and then topping it up in the morning. Make sure to wrap it in a tea towel to absorb the condensation.

This could look like:

  • A wholegrain sandwich with lettuce, shredded carrot and chicken breast, a cheese stringer, an apple cut into slices, and hummus with vegetable sticks and water
  • A lunchbox picnic with beetroot dip, seeded crackers and vegetable sticks, grape tomatoes, a small tub of yoghurt and a handful of grapes and water
  • Zucchini slice, a handful of blueberries, a yoghurt pouch, a homemade muffin, baby cucumbers and water
  • Meatballs, Carrot salad (grated carrot with sultanas and pasta dressed with a squeeze of lemon juice and a splash of olive oil), cottage cheese, snow pea dippers, and water.

It is important to rotate the options in the lunchbox to avoid flavour fatigue, especially if they like the same food all the time. However, kids also like routine, especially younger children, so keeping to 2– 3 varied choices between the morning snack and lunch may work for your child.

how do I encourage my child to eat these foods?
The holidays and weekends are a great time to introduce your child to the variety of options that can go in their lunchbox.

There are a few steps you can take to make back–to–school lunchboxes less burdensome:

Involve the kids
Make preparing and cooking meals a fun family activity and discuss the foods used. While our busy lives mean that cooking can be a chore, it is essential to make the time to cook whole foods. This helps to teach the kids the importance of creating a nutritious meal for themselves.

Have picnic lunches or dinners
Giving children the choice of what to eat can increase their openness to trying new foods. Place the separate ingredients into the centre of the table and allow each person to build their own meal, e.g. sandwiches, burritos, pizzas, wraps, tacos and salad platters.

Keep unhealthy snacks out of the pantry
It’s much easier to say no when you don’t have to. By simply not buying unhealthy snacks, they won’t be in the pantry, and your kids won’t bug you for them – out of sight, out of mind.

Have healthy snacks in their eyesight
Having healthy snacks like fruit, vegetable sticks and dip, or wholegrain crackers and cheese in the eye line of your child means that they are more likely to go for those foods over others when snack time rolls around.

Be a role model
With kids it definitely is monkey see, monkey do. Children are visual and practical learners. By eating a variety of nutritious whole foods each day, particularly with your child, you are showing your child that they are safe and delicious. This role modelling helps to encourage them to give those foods a try and learn to eat them happily in the future.

If you are concerned about your child’s food choices and the impact it has on their school performance, free to book in to see your Dietitian. Dietitians can work with you and your child to ensure they get all the essential vitamins and minerals needed for their learning and growing bodies and minds.

Kylie is warm, non–judgmental and passionate Dietitian/Nutritionist working at Bright Diets. She loves helping everyone reach their full potential by understanding how food affects their body. She enjoys working with people of all ages in a supportive and empowering way to assist them to improve their health and wellbeing. You can contact Kylie on 0419 612 807 or or connect on the Bright Diets Facebook page.

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