A Guide for Packing Healthy School Lunches

school-lunchDid you know that about one third of your child’s total daily food intake is taken in at school? What this means is that the lunchbox you pack must be high in nutritional value and vitamins to provide energy for the day, but be equally delicious enough for the child to enjoy eating. HEALTH makes it easier with the following go-to practical guide to help you take the guesswork out
of packing delicious school lunches.

Food Groups

• To start, remember that a healthy and balanced packed lunch should include the following: vegetables or salad and a portion of fruit and starchy foods such as pasta, bread, rice, or potatoes.
Also, protein foods in addition to a single dairy item such as yogurt or cheese.

• Protein will help maintain focus and keep concentration levels even during afternoon lessons. Some suggested sandwich ingredients are made up from a lean protein such as 97 percent fat-free
chicken, turkey, cheese, or tuna. Hard boiled eggs, either sliced or whole, are another alternative to meats and pack a punch.

• Carbohydrates are a primary source of energy and in fact, are the main nutritional group that should be kept in mind when packing a school lunch. These carbs can come from a healthy wholegrain sandwich or even a whole meal bagel or roll, but to add some creativity, try a wrap made from Arabic bread, whole meal baguette, chapattis, or even tortillas.

Storage and Safety

• It’s important to keep food in the lunch box cold to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. To help with this, be sure to pack the school lunch in an insulated lunch box with a small freezer brick to keep the food in the box fresh and cool.

• Avoid packing freshly cooked, hot food into airtight containers immediately. Instead, first cool them in the refrigerator overnight.

• During hot weather, avoid milk, yoghurt, fish, or meat in lunches, unless they are packed in a goodquality cooler with an ice pack/ frozen water bottle to prevent food poisoning.

The Lunchbox Matters

• If your child doesn’t eat their lunch, it may be something as simple as your child just doesn’t like his/her lunchbox. Make it a point to allow your child to choose their own lunchbox with a water bottle to match.

• Some kids prefer a brown paper bag that can be tossed away once used instead of a bulky lunchbox.

Creative Solutions

• Kids like fresh fruit cut and ready to eat. Fruit salad is the ideal lunch box solution; add some chopped dried fruit like dates or apricots to make it more interesting.

• Breadsticks and whole meal crackers are ideal finger foods that can be spread with either peanut butter, low-fat soft cheese or eaten alone.

• Freeze fruits in the summer or for sport days. Simply pop the frozen fruit into a small sealable plastic bag or airtight container and be sure to provide a fork to make it easier to eat.

• Cucumbers and baby carrots are especially perfect for small hands and can be chopped or used whole. Larger cucumbers can be used as a neat substitute for bread and can be lightly spread with cream cheese or sliced cheese for a crunchy sandwich alternative.

• Use a vegetable peeler to slice cucumber into thin ribbons for sandwich fillings.

• Other snacks such as whole meal crackers with cheese, celery with peanut butter, carrot sticks with hummus, or a small bag of raw unsalted mixed nuts are great to further boost nutritional value of the lunch whilst providing variety.

Make it Easy

• Weekends are a good time to get the kids involved in baking healthy treats for the school week. Try homemade granola using coconut, rolled oats, almonds, and honey or bake your own healthy granola bars using recipes from the internet.

• Whole meal muffins filled with fruit can be baked in bulk and frozen for school or even a quick breakfast for kids on the go.

• Use a cookie cutter to cut sandwich bread into fun shapes and be sure to use different kinds of breads to maintain the child’s interest level.

• While lots of kids bring fruit juices to school, the ideal drink should be plain water. During hotter days, freeze the bottle the night before to ensure it is ice cold. If you do opt to give fruit juices, go for the organic, sugarfree kinds but aim to make that an occasional treat.

Think Out of the Box

Here are some great non-sandwich ideas for school lunches your kids are sure to love:

Spring Rolls: Use large lettuce leaves to create healthy and creative roll-ups. Fill these with shredded chicken or opt for a veggie roll using sliced red peppers and shredded carrots for a lunch that is as colorful as it is fun to eat.

Food on Sticks: Use flat, blunt edged bamboo sticks to create mini chicken, beef, or veggie skewers. Alternate the meat pieces with cherry tomatoes or bell peppers. Use the same sticks to create fruit kebobs with pineapple, apple, and strawberries cut up.

Pack a box with pita triangles and separately, some fresh hummus. This provides protein as well as fiber and is fun for kids to eat. For a more interesting combination, pack olives, grapes, or carrots for easy dipping.

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