By the book: Smart bites to fuel their day

By the book: Smart bites to fuel their day

Helen O’Callaghan says a healthy lunch is vital brain food.

HE’S had two bites of his sandwich and left the fruit. If you’re dreading another year of opening the lunchbox and finding most of his school lunch uneaten now’s a good time to take a fresh, proactive approach.

Good nutrition is essential for children’s growth and development. 

It’s also vital fuel for the long school day. Whether starting school for the first time, transitioning from primary to secondary or returning to a familiar routine, September’s a busy time for kids and parents, says Caroline Gunn, National Dairy Council nutritionist.

“Back to school marks a fresh beginning and structure for the next nine/10 months of your family’s year. 

Take it as an opportunity to encourage healthy lifestyle routines from the start,” says Gunn, who recommends involving children in lunchbox preparation — bring them to supermarket to select lunch foods and/ or get them to prepare the lunchbox with you. 

Like us, children don’t like surprises. If they know what to expect in the lunchbox and they’re excited about it, they’re more likely to eat it.

Independent dietitian and author Paula Mee advises investing in a lunchbox with multiple layers or compartments.

“They’re widely available, tend to be very durable and really encourage preparing a varied lunch that’s both delicious and appealing to the eye.

“Include a sandwich in the bottom layer and fill the top layer with selection of delicious eats: cheese cubes, grapes, mandarin pieces, raspberries, strawberries, cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, sugar snap peas, pepper slice, hummus or carrot batons.”

By the book: Smart bites to fuel their day

While lunch is a good chance to get healthy food into your child, parents shouldn’t worry unduly if s/he likes the same set foods every day.

“As long as it’s fairly balanced and they’re eating well at other meals, it’s okay,” says Gunn.

A packed school lunch should contain all major food groups: 

  • one portion starchy carbohydrate (wholegrain bread, pitas/wraps, brown rice/pasta);
  • one portion protein food (chicken, fish, egg, pulses);
  • one portion dairy (yogurt, 125g), cheese (25g) or milk (200ml);
  • one portion vegetables (carrot sticks, peppers, sweet-corn, lettuce, onion);
  • one portion fruit (apple, orange, banana, pear, kiwi); and a drink (water or milk).

The Department of Health recommends three daily servings from the milk/yogurt/cheese food group, but five are recommended for nine to 18-year-olds.

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