School Lunchboxes

Family Time, Tips for Parents

MasterChef fever has struck the nation.

It’s the final tonight! and, as such, many of us have been inspired to get creative in the kitchen. But how inventive can you really be with your children’s lunchboxes?

Thanks to recent campaigns run by the NHS and Public Health England, there’s plenty of information on what to put in your child’s lunchbox to ensure they’re getting the correct balance of nutrients. However, remembering it all on a busy day, and trying to put healthy lunches together in such a way as to appeal to your son or daughter (especially if someone else in their class has a tuckbox crammed with crisps and chocolate!), can be tricky. The team at Mentor have put together a few pointers to help you load a lunchbox with minimal hassle.

#1: Balance, balance, balance

Recent studies have shown that only 1.6% of packed lunches satisfy the nutritional needs of children. Researchers found excess to be the main problem – too many sugary snacks, for instance. Balance, then, is key.

The NHS recommends that healthy lunches should contain:

  • Plenty of starchy carbohydrates – such as pasta, rice, potatoes, or bread.
  • Fresh fruit, vegetables and salad.
  • At least one source of protein – such as meat, cheese, fish, eggs or beans/pulses.
  • In addition, it’s good to include a ‘side dish’ (or healthy treat), such as a low-fat or low-sugar yogurt, rice cakes, plain popcorn, or a sugar-free jelly.
  • Consider drinks carefully. It can be easy to forget how loaded with sugar some beverages aimed at children are, so it pays to read all the labels. The NHS recommends avoiding sugary sodas – opt for water, milk, or no-added sugar drinks instead.

#2: Go for finger food

Eating with one’s fingers is more interactive and more tactile – it’s just more fun! Moreover, if you make wise choices, this style of food can also be a useful tool for teaching your children to eat more slowly. Here are some finger food favourites:

  • Whole wheat crackers and string cheese. Easy to pick up, tasty, and your child can mix and match – put the crackers and cheese together, eat separately, or enjoy a combo. It sounds too simple to be true, but the simple act of having a choice can make the eating experience more pleasurable.
  • Raw veggies and dip. Chop up a selection of vegetable batons – carrots, celery, peppers and cucumber are good choices – and pair with a healthy dip. You can make all kinds of dips as a family at home; why not try out different recipes together and let your son or daughter choose which one to take to school?
  • Chopped fruit. It’s tempting to put a whole piece of fruit into the lunch box, but chopping it up will make the snack seem more appealing, will make the fruit last longer, and is easier for little hands and teeth to manage. For healthy lunches, always go for fresh fruit rather than dried (which is high in sugar and can damage your children’s teeth). Remember, too, that though many kids love fruit juice, if you can, always get them to eat the whole fruit; not only does drinking juice flood their bodies with sugar, but juicing removes many of the antioxidants and beneficial compounds from the fruit (as well as most of the fibre).

#3: Make Healthy Lunches Fun

Kids like variety, but trying to get a variety of healthy foods into a packed lunch can be a challenge – there are only so many ways to skin a cat, right?

Whilst this is true, turning food preparation into a fun activity – which results in treats that your kids are excited to eat – can be an excellent way to ensure that your children love the food you choose to feed them.

There are few different things you can do here. As mentioned earlier, preparing healthy lunches with your children – letting them try different things, cooking different recipes together, and allowing them to choose what makes it into the lunchbox from time to time – can make the whole process more enjoyable (and exciting).

Alternatively, if your child isn’t that food-oriented, or they’re a picky eater, why not play on the presentation aspect? Children are highly visual, and so if something looks fun, they’re much more likely to try it! Here are some ideas:

Ditch ‘Colin the Caterpillar’ for a healthy alternative. Thread fruits onto a skewer – grapes work really well here – and paint eyes on the end with icing sugar so they look like little caterpillars (a healthy alternative to M&S’s hugely popular cake!)

Say goodbye to soggy sandwiches. Use rolled-up lunch meats or cookie cutters to turn sandwiches into different shapes, sizes and even animals – tasty yet fun.


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