written by Adelle Rutch - Nutritionist
If we are sending our little ones to school and learning outside of the home (which the vast majority of us in Australia are), then that is a lot of days and meals where we aren’t together. This makes it so important for us to make informed decisions and support our kids to make healthy selections, for so many reasons outside of “just” health.
In fact, when we crunch the numbers: Monday-Friday school lunches make up about 40% of a child’s weekly food intake! Which goes to show, this time, and what we are offering our children in their lunchboxes, really matters!
It seems very counterintuitive to be sending a child off to school with a lunchbox full of things that won’t truly foster their growth and development when that is what schooling is about - growing, learning and thriving.
Convenience with nutrition may make things easier, but it almost always comes at a cost. In the short term and the long term, convenience foods come with many downfalls, although clever marketing will often have you scratching your head thinking otherwise.
On top of the health implications, food that is packaged in an unsustainable manner is further polluting our planet, adding micro plastics into circulation which are just as detrimental.
Packaged food is often (I am going to get really bold here and say ALMOST ALWAYS) filled with unnecessarily added sugar, salt and vegetable oil. The contents of packaged foods can be void of high levels of fibre, beneficial fat and protein - the macronutrients that fill and sustain energy (hello 3pm meltdowns).
Packaged food that isn’t overly nutritious isn’t kind to the wallet either. Packaged foods often aren’t filling OR nutritious. If you are paying for a product or item, you want it to actually do something, right?
This list of downfalls could expand dramatically, and it is something that we are pretty passionate about here at Eat For You. However, in the name of creating change, we also like to focus on what you CAN be doing, not just what you shouldn’t be doing. This is where the real change happens, with small, simple swaps and empowered education.
So, what should a lunchbox look like?
As a nutritionist and mama, I am a pretty big fan of bento boxes. I think many parents and carers are. Bento boxes minimise the need for packaging with their handy sections that separate foods to keep flavours fresh. There are so many different types and price ranges on the market, so if it is time for a lunchbox update, possibly consider this option.
When preparing lunch, check in with your child every now and then. A simple ‘what do you feel like today? What are you enjoying in your lunchbox? What do you wish I did differently?’, does wonders.
This is a collaborative effort.
Imagine, if day in day out you opened your lunchbox to see the same sandwich, which you then popped in the bin so as not to draw attention to the fact you hadn’t eaten it (sneaky) and then as a result, it kept getting put back in there. Not great, right?
From a child’s perspective, if they don’t have a say in the “little” things like lunchboxes, they can feel completely out of control because their daily life IS outside of their control. Open conversation and collaboration is so very important, even from a young age, and will end in much less food waste, and much more content little learners.
Some simple tips to keep in mind when packing lunchboxes?
- Always ensure there is at least 1-2 pieces of fruit. Have your child pop to the markets with you, head to the grocery store or select when doing online shopping. Let them choose the fruits they like the most. They will experience pride and ownership over their body and lunchbox by having this very important say.
- As above, but with veggies! Veggie sticks are GREAT. Chopped veggies like carrot, beans, cucumber, celery or slightly blanched cauliflower make wonderful dippers. A homemade hummus is easy to make and will last the week in the fridge, perfect for dipping.
- Create the star of the show. The “main" or “big” lunch. A sandwich with a protein, and items that aren’t going to go soggy (a lovely wholegrain or rye bread or wrap), brown rice cakes and tuna (if child is old enough), cooked wholegrain pasta salad, boiled egg and salad. Left overs that can safely be eaten the next day from a lunchbox are another great idea, e.g roast vegetables and quinoa or chicken strips (if this can be kept cool).
- Add a couple of healthy snacks! This is where we would hope our Little Hero bar would sneak in! For cost effectiveness and packaging options, Little Hero can also be purchased in a bulk pack of 30 bites (packed in a home compostable bag).
- Some other healthy snack options in addition to the balance of fibre, fruit serves and beneficial fat that is provided in the Little Hero are the following (many of which can be created and frozen and simply grabbed from the freezer): Yoghurt or kefir (watch the added sugar with this one), banana bread/muffins, savoury muffins, seed spread and crackers, bliss balls (check our recipe book for inspiration) and nori.
- Give water. That is all. Nothing else! There isn’t a lot else to say here, Juices, flavoured milks etc don’t really have a place at school and water is incredibly important for maintaining hydration whilst kids are running, playing and learning. It is so crucial to be learning with a clear mind and staying hydrated is key to that.
We get it. We are mothers ourselves, packing those lunch boxes every morning while half asleep. Things can get crazy during the year for a whole multitude of factors. Stick with us though. We will be providing more education and ideas throughout the school terms. As a team of mums, providing adequate nutrition to our kids is why our Little Hero bar has become the biggest passion project for us all. There is a huge gap in the market for honest food for kids and their families, and we are determined to nourish health from a young age. Helping little ones fall in love with good food and understanding that it CAN be good for you while still tasting pretty damn delicious is our goal, and we plan to make this transition easier for all parents/carers.
One lunchbox at a time.