A new term is starting and the kids are back to school next week. So how can you make sure you are keeping them healthy?
What’s in your lunchbox?
42% of children in Northern Ireland take a packed lunch to school. A few years ago, The Food Standards Agency’ carried out a survey of school lunch boxes and found that we are packing our children’s lunches with too much fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar. If you think that the average kid’s lunchbox contains a white bread sandwich or roll (82%), crisps (69%), and biscuits or chocolate (58%), it is not surprising that a child eats twice the recommended lunchtime intake of saturated fat and sugar, and up to half their daily salt intake in their lunch.
In this survey, only one in five packed lunches contained any vegetables or salad and about half included an item of fruit.
Some healthy lunchbox ideas
If the start of September fills you with dread at the thought of having to magic up nutritious food for your child’s lunchbox every day, here are a few simple ideas to help inspire you:
- For a change from sandwiches, try wholemeal pitta pockets packed with chicken or tuna and some vegetables. Tuna, red pepper or grated carrot are usually a hit with kids.
- Swap crisps for little pots of humous with carrot sticks.
- Always include at least one vegetable and one piece of fruit. Carrot sticks, sugar-snap peas, cherry tomatoes are good finger foods.
- For younger children, pack in little boxes of chopped fruit rather than a whole piece of fruit as these can be easier to eat.
- Pasta, couscous or rice are a good base for salads with tuna, oily fish like salmon or chicken. Add some grated carrot, chopped tomatoes and vegetables for colour and interest, and make enough to do a couple of days.
- A flask of soup with a wholemeal sandwich is filling and nutritious. Homemade soups are quick and easy to make and can be frozen in portion sizes.
- Include some low sugar yoghurt. If your child does not like natural yoghurt, then make sure you check the label for low sugar (max 12g per 100g).
- There is as much sugar in fruit juice as there is in fizzy drinks, so milk or water is a better choice.
Get your kids involved in planning and shopping for school lunches. Talk to them about making healthy choices and get their ideas about what they would like to eat. They may surprise you!
If your child is overweight
Cut back on sugar. A high sugar intake drives insulin levels up, causing weight gain. As well as the obvious sources of sugar in a child’s diet, like fizzy drinks, sweets, cakes and biscuits, keep an eye out for hidden sugars in sauces, soups and bread. Replace fizzy drinks, cordials and juices with plain water flavoured with slices of orange. Cutting back on white, refined carbs like white bread, white rice and pasta will also help.
If your child is a fussy eater
Have a look at my blog post here for some ideas to help.