The week before school goes back and as expected the Sunday papers are featuring a ‘Back to School’ special with some lunchbox tips to boot. Now I am sure I am not the only person who sees the school lunchbox suggestions of ‘hommus’, ‘homemade frittata’ and ‘mini bran cakes’ to be nothing short of ridiculous, and I am a paediatric dietitian. Just in case you had not realized it before, kids do not eat this type of food. Children, young children in particular want recognizable, easy to eat foods, in small portions in generally as many packets as possible. Our job then as carers is to combine some level of nutrition with foods that our hungry, growing children will actually eat.
The biggest issue with lunchboxes is that they can easily contain far too much carbohydrate and too little protein. A fruit break, followed by a recess of potato chips, muesli bars and fruit along with a plain sandwich and juice for big lunch and you are looking at roughly 60% total carbohydrate and as little as 10% protein. Such a nutrient imbalance leaves our kids prone to sugar highs and lows, fluctuating energy levels, hunger and overeating.
The good news is that it is easy to fix. All you need to do is follow this simple lunchbox formula and you will achieve both nutrient quality and a lunchbox balance that the children will actually be happy to eat.
1) 1 vegetable – forget fruit break, the sooner it becomes vegetable break the better.
2) 1 piece of fruit – fresh only, dried fruit and fruit snacks are packed full of high GI sugar.
3) 1 protein snack – flavoured milk, cheese and crackers, dairy desserts, yoghurt – the kids love these foods, they are packed with protein and calcium and you can freeze them to keep the lunchbox cool.
4) 1 small packaged snack <400kJ – so they do not feel like they have a ‘boring’ lunchbox; look for wholegrain bars, popcorn, vegetable chips, homemade banana bread or muffins and perhaps include a treat of potato chips or a small chocolate once each week.
5) A wrap filled with protein – vegemite and Nutella are not good enough. Lean meat, egg or cheese will help to keep the kids full and the wrap break will help to lighten the carbs in the lunchbox.
6) Water to drink – no exceptions – cordial, juice and soft drinks have no place in the diets of children.
After working with children and their weight issues for more than 10 years, one thing I have learnt is that we have to leave children with a positive view of nutrition. This means combining what we them to eat to ensure optimal nutrition and weight control, along with foods that are child friendly. Once the lunchbox has a firm base, with less sugar from fruit, white bread and snacks and focuses more on vegetables, lean proteins and just 1 snack food, a perfect balance is achieved. Try working towards this lunchbox balance with your kids this school year, it never fails.