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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Please do not overcarb your kids lunches this year

With just a week or two until school returns, many mums are counting down the hours until life becomes relatively sane again, well, at least between the hours of 9-3pm anyway. With the start of a new school year also come the annual school lunchbox recommendations, in which committed, organised mums are thought to spend hours preparing marinated chicken drumsticks, mini frittatas and muffins for their brood in the hope that their lunchbox ticks all nutritional standards.

As a nutritionist who has spent more than 10 years working with overweight children and teens I have one request for all the mums out their this school year, please do not overcarb your kids school lunchbox!

The average lunchbox which contains fruit, muesli bars, plain white bread sandwiches and fruit juice is more than 60% carbohydrate. Now while growing, active kids do need plenty of energy, energy in the form of processed, high sugar carbs such as fruit snacks, juices, snack bars and biscuits are digested quickly, result in a high release of the hormone insulin and leave kids prone to overeating and weight gain long term. A study completed several years back with Melbourne school children found that on average the kids lunchboxes contained 3 packaged snacks – bars, bites, twists and dips which offer little nutritionally except empty calories. Based on this alone it is not surprising that so many of our children have significant weight issues.

It is this very reason that children return home at 3-4pm each day absolutely ravenous, simply as their digestive hormones are far less likely to be keeping them full and satisfied if their food intake has been largely carbohydrate in nature for the entire day. Overeating after school then leaves young children less likely to eat their dinner, a dinner of meat and vegetables that they need to get all of their essential nutrients and leaves their overall nutritional intake less than ideal.

To shift this dietary pattern, all you need to do is focus on adding protein rich choices to your child’s lunchbox mix. Always choose wholegrain bread or wraps (remember, if you keep buying white bread, they will keep wanting it), and fill with protein rich choices such as lean meat, tuna, cheese or egg. If you are worried about the temperature of the lunchbox, simply freeze a popper or water bottle and sit next to the sandwich to keep it cool. Add just 1 piece of fruit and always one vegetable, one dairy based snack such as flavoured milk, cheese and crackers, a frozen yoghurt tube or tub or some roasted chic nuts or broad beans. If you do choose to then also add a snack food – a mini muffin, small wholegrain bar or potato chips, at least the rest of the lunchbox is nutritionally balanced.