These three words have had a long term ‘love-hate’ relationship with most parents. Back to school, back to stationery shopping, back to early morning swimming, back to school fee payments, back to hour long assemblies, back to parent-teacher conferences, and back to midnight panic stations for tomorrow’s school lunch box.
As Covid-19 lockdown levels start to ease and schools go back to normalising attendance hours, the dreaded lunchbox is slowly creeping back onto our daily to-do list. We have all spent the last two years adapting to lunch at home during the pandemic, and now suddenly have to go back to previous lunchbox habits.
Packing a school lunchbox can be tough for a number of reasons… time being a major one! You might find yourself thinking: “when on earth am I going to find the time to cut out fruit into heart shaped lunchbox treats like those moms on Instagram or Pinterest?”. The truth is, we don’t have to over complicate lunchboxes to make them healthy. Even on a tight budget, creating a healthy school lunchbox does not have to be a nightmare that you conquer every evening. Keep it simple and time efficient, e.g., meal prep and freeze over the weekend (whole meals or components of meals) to allow a quick defrost the night before school (i.e., bulk preparation in advance).
The most important aspect when building a lunchbox is ‘balance and variety’. You want to have a variety of not only macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats), but micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) too! The basic food plate model suggests a meal should consist of ½ fruit and vegetables, ¼ starches/carbohydrates and ¼ protein source (animal and/or plant-based protein), along with the addition of healthy fats known as mono-unsaturated fatty acids and poly-unsaturated fatty acids (e.g., nuts, seeds, avocado, olives, etc.). For example: snacks of raw fruits and vegetables, homemade hummus for dipping the vegetables (plant-based protein source), whole wheat bread (starch) with peanut butter spread (unsaturated fat source).
There are endless varieties of macronutrient combinations that you can try, it does not only have to be in separate components (i.e., a pasta that contains all of the above together in one meal, instead of having the basic plate model breakdown as per the example). This will be child dependent. You might have a fussy eater who does not want their different foods to touch, or a child with poor appetite who prefers many small snacks over one main meal. Therefore, experimenting and trial and error is key. Keep the kids involved. Listen to their feedback and observe the food that comes back in the lunchboxes at the end of the day. Try to work with what your child likes instead of force-feeding things that they inevitably won’t eat. As your child gets older, try to include them in the shopping for groceries and in the compiling of their lunch boxes too. Compiling a lunchbox together will have a multitude of benefits: building autonomy for the child through allowing their own decisions to be made and their opinions to be heard; teaching your child basic life skills about nutritious eating and planning ahead; bonding time between parents and child; higher likelihood of meal compliance and finishing their food at school; etc (the list goes on!).
Lastly, some extra ‘rule of thumb’ basics for the lunchbox epitome: – water is better than any other lunchbox drink (yes, even fruit juice) – avoid packaged and processed snacks – keep it seasonal (utilize the fruits and vegetables that are in season) – keep it safe (make sure lunch boxes are sealed and kept at correct temperatures) – keep it financially viable (we don’t need the most expensive snacks to be healthy) — include as many colours as possible (a rainbow of micronutrients!)
Georgia Burnett (Registered Dietitian, Sweet Paeds) – RD, BScHONS
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