Packing your child's school lunch box is a great way to influence their food choices and introduce healthy habits at an early age.
Here are a few tips towards a healthy lunchbox:
Variety underlies any healthy diet so try to vary the contents of the lunchbox any chance you get.
Always include a sandwich — but don't forget that instead of sliced bread you could use wraps, ciabatta, rolls, pitta breads etc. Try to use wholegrain bread, which will provide fibre and help your child feel full. If your children aren't used to eating wholegrain bread, use softgrain bread initially, and gradually change over to the wholegrain bread.
Try to include a piece of fresh fruit, carton of fruit juice, dried fruit, or even a bottle of fruit smoothie as much as possible to help your child get their "5 a day".
Vegetables can be sneaked into the lunchbox in many forms — add a bag of carrot sticks or baby tomatoes, grate carrot and use in sandwich fillings or add sweetcorn to tuna.
Include your kids in the grocery shopping and let them choose foods that are part of a healthy diet. If possible, stay out of the way of temptation — skip the aisles that house sweets, biscuits and fizzy drinks.
At home include the kids in their lunch preparation. Take into account their tastes and let them select one new fruit and vegetable to try each week.
Keep it simple. Avoid messy mushy food which may turn your child off their food. If a sandwich filler makes the bread mushy before it is eaten wrap the filler up in tinfoil so it can be added when needed.
Keep it small. Ensure food is manageable for little hands. Cut apples and carrots into slices. Cut sandwiches into four pieces. Small snacks such as raisins or mandarins are easy to manage as they are.
Children become easily dehydrated so don't forget drinks. Add bottled water, milk, sugar free squash or 100% fruit juices to school lunch boxes. However, fruit juices should be limited to meal times due to their high sugar content. Try diluting fruit juice to 2 parts water to one part juice to reduce the sugar content. If you freeze cartons of fruit juice the night before, not only will they act as lunchbox cooler but the juice will be nicely chilled at lunchtime.
Some healthy lunchbox treat suggestions:
Yogurt, fromage frais or rice pudding — try the reduced fat options
Individual packets of dried fruit eg raisins or apricots
Individual portions of cheese
Plain biscuits, bread sticks or crackers
Popcorn — unsalted and unbuttered
Fresh fruits (sliced), mini tins of fruit and dried fruits or trail mix
Raw vegetables such as baby carrots or sliced cucumbers with healthy dip like houmous are easy to pack
Make homemade lunchables using wholegrain crackers, sliced cheese and lean ham
Remember it is ok to give your child treats like chocolate, sweets and crisps now and again — just not too often.
Here are some ideas for delicious and healthy sandwich, wrap or pitta bread fillers:
Use tuna tinned in spring water or tinned salmon, but watch the mayonnaise. Use the reduced-fat or fat-free mayonnaise.
Peanut butter, although relatively high in fat, contains healthy monounsaturated fat, which will not adversely affect blood cholesterol levels. Try it with jam or banana for variety.
Add cheese for additional calcium, especially if your child doesn't drink milk.
Healthy toppings can include ketchup, mustard, BBQ sauce, salsa, reduced fat cream cheese, houmous and low fat salad dressings. Just watch your serving size.
Spreading wraps with a little reduced-fat cream cheese will give the fillings more 'sticking power' and make it easier to roll.
Invest in a small cooler bag to keep their lunch fresh and cool until lunchtime.