Make sure your child's lunch box packs a punch

For best results, children need to refuel with carbohydrates, proteins, and fruit and vegetables during school breaks.

WHEN it comes to children’s lunches, the sambo is still king — eight in ten parents still resort to the trusty sandwich, though the vast majority (92%) are also trying to include something healthy in the lunchbox, such as a piece of fruit or yoghurt.

The findings of a Bord Gáis Energy back-to-school survey also showed that just 7% of children make their own lunches.

No wonder parents find the whole business of coming up with healthy and varied lunches stressful. And parents are anxious at this time of year.

In another survey — polls and packed lunches seem to go hand in hand — some 87% of parents told Tesco they found looking for lunchbox inspiration the third most stressful part of the autumn return to school.

With that in mind, Feelgood turned to dietician Orla Walsh who has come up with this guide to pepping up children’s lunchboxes.

Make sure your child's lunch box packs a punch

“Parents are more concerned than ever about what goes into a lunchbox as they know now, more than ever, the impact it has on their child’s quality of life. The link between what you eat and how you feel has never been clearer,” she says.

While parents can’t control many aspects of their children’s lives, they can help them to achieve optimal health through diet.

“You are ultimately responsible for keeping your child safe and food is one part of this. If a child becomes overweight, it is not just their physical health that is being damaged, it also negatively impacts their mental health.”

Walsh says she appreciates that it can be difficult to make sure that children eat well, but she guarantees that it is worth it.

Before jumping to lunch, however, it’s worth saying a quick word about breakfast. 

It has been shown that having a good breakfast, regularly, has a positive effect on children’s academic performance, with the clearest effects on maths grades.

However, adds Orla Walsh, it’s not right to think of it as the most important meal of the day.

Make sure your child's lunch box packs a punch

“There should be no main meal of the day,” she says. 

“All meals should be equal in size. You could argue that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. However, lunch is incredibly important too. 

"Carbohydrates feed the brain. The brain cannot store carbohydrates and, therefore, relies on you to provide it to the body within your meals.”

She says ‘little break’ and ‘big break’ are an ideal time to refuel and ensure the brain has everything it needs to concentrate, take in and store knowledge.

All meals should be balanced — containing carbohydrate, protein and fruit and veg — and the ‘hang sandwich’ of old, unfortunately, is not up to the job as it’s a processed meat that is often high in salt.

Instead, choose one item from the following checklist and use your child’s hand to calculate the appropriate portion size — carbs should take up the same space as a clenched fist; protein should cover the palm of your hand and fruit and veg should represent two big handfuls.

If you add one of each of the following, you can be sure your child is getting the necessary nutrients, such as carbohydrates for energy, calcium for their bones, protein for their muscles and metabolism as well as colour for health-boosting vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.

The lunchbox check list

Fruit: apple, banana, berries, oranges, pears

Veggies: lettuce, cherry tomatoes, cucumber sticks, celery, carrot batons

Protein: tuna, chicken, turkey, beans, hummus, peanut butter, egg

Dairy: yoghurt, cheese, ricotta, quark, cottage cheese, soya yoghurt

Carbohydrate: wholegrain bread, oatcakes, Ryvita, porridge bread, wholemeal pita, spelt roll, Turkish flatbread

Water: always keep a small bottle in your child’s school bag.

After that, plan your child’s lunchbox and try to make it as fun, varied and as easy to eat as possible.

Here’s are some suggestions for healthy, balanced and tasty lunches

* Wholemeal pitta with tuna, pesto, sweetcorn and rocket

* Turkish flatbread with Greek yoghurt, chicken, grapes and spinach

* Brown bread with smoked salmon, cream cheese, red onion and lettuce

* Spelt roll with hummus and cucumber

* Oatcakes with cheese and leftover meat plus a side of finger-food veg

* Rye crackers with butter, beef slices, tomato, lettuce and gherkin

Now relax. That’s your child sorted when the bell goes for lunch.


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