Packing a healthy school lunch is one of those tasks where most parents (myself included) start off the school year with amazingly healthy and beautiful looking lunches and then by the end of the year it’s whatever we can throw together from the cupboard.
While no one is expecting organic, homemade snacks and a completely balanced lunchbox each day, it’s important to remember that children spend the majority of the day at school, and their school lunch makes up a large percentage of their daily food intake. With numerous studies linking nutrition to behaviour and concentration, packing a healthy school lunch really is important.
We asked several teachers for their best healthy school lunch tips, and here are the most popular responses:
- Don’t forget breakfast.
Yes this is about lunch boxes, but often the first break time isn’t until two hours after schools starts. If your child hasn’t had anything to eat before they leave home, that’s a really long time to go without any food. If mornings are a rush, try foods that can be eaten on the run like yoghurt and smoothies.
- Fruit break should be for fruit!
Most schools offer a fruit break or a munch and crunch and many teachers reported frustration about the ‘fruit flavoured’ processed items that would be sent for these breaks. Keep it simple with fruit and vegetables for this snack time.
Read the labels.
- Many lunchboxes are packed with what look like healthy foods, but are in fact full of sugar. Yoghurt pouches and muesli bars are some of the key offenders of this with many of the popular brands adding large amounts of sugar. Read the labels and find the brands that avoid the additional additives (they are out there!)
- Avoid the juice and poppers and stick with water.
Water is all they need to drink during the day. Save the juice for treats and special occasions
- Try to include protein for morning tea and lunch.
There are lots of different protein options including sliced meat (try to stay away from the processed meats where possible), chicken, eggs (hard boiled ones are great), hummus and tuna that work well for school lunches.
- Switch to wholemeal.
Where possible try to substitute wholemeal or multigrain alternatives for white bread, wraps and crackers. If you bake snacks at home, use wholemeal flour instead of white flour. Swap white pasta for wholemeal pasta and use brown rice where possible.
- Avoid processed food
Try to limit processed and packaged food as much as possible. The more natural ingredients that the food contains, the healthier it is. There are healthy, mostly unprocessed options that you can buy at the supermarkets these days, and they are definitely worth choosing over the highly processed options.
- Keep it simple.
Keep in mind your child only has around 15 minutes at each break time to eat before they are allowed to play. Very few children will stick around to continue eating after that play bell rings, no matter how good there lunch is! Make sure the food is easy for them to eat and can be eaten quickly, otherwise it generally won’t get eaten.
Packing a healthy lunchbox doesn’t have to be difficult and it doesn’t have to be fancy. Your child will benefit from increased concentration, better behaviour and a healthier lifestyle.
Thanks to Carol from My Bored Toddler for sharing her tips with us. Carol is an Australian Teacher and the proud mum of two toddlers who have LOTS of energy.