In this post I am referring to childrens school lunches, however the principles can be applied to any packed lunches for children or adults.
After a long summer its time to go back to school, and for many parents this means preparing a daily packed lunch. If you often get stuck on what to put into your child’s packed lunch that is nutritious and that they will actually eat, then read on.
A good healthy packed lunch should be able to sustain the body and brain through the school day. Giving the best nutrition to your children really gives them the best start. A white bread sandwich with a sugary cereal bar and a packet of crisps doesn't really cut it. Fortunately many schools want their kids to be healthy and therefore don’t allow fizzy drinks or chocolate bars to be brought in. Nuts are a great healthy food, but these are also off limits in school packed lunches due to potential severe allergies. So what foods can we pack that will be healthy and sustaining?
The primary fuel for the body and brain is glucose which is mainly obtained from carbohydrates. Too many simple carbohydrates, such as sugary foods and white bread, can lead to hyperactivity, then energy and mood dips later in the day. This is why complex carbohydrates are best, to ensure an even supply of fuel to sustain your child through their day. Complex carbohydrates are found in fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, legumes and pulses.
To build brain cells the body needs the omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. These are found in oily fish (such as sardines, mackerel, salmon, herring and tuna), flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and hemp seeds.
Protein is made up of 23 different amino acids. Some of these can be manufactured in the body, and some can only be obtained from the food we eat. Just one of the roles of amino acids are making neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers controlling mood, memory and many other cognitive processes and behaviours. Good protein sources include eggs, fish, lean meat, dairy, soy, legumes and pulses.
Micronutrients are vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, and are found in abundance in fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Each micronutrient plays an important role in the body to ensure that everything is functioning as it should. A healthy balanced diet of natural foods will contain an abundance of micronutrients, whereas most processed foods are void of micronutrients.
Its very important to stay hydrated throughout the day, even just minor dehydration can lead to tiredness, poor memory and lack of concentration. So ensure you kids get hydration through water, and also through fruits and vegetables. If your child is really resistant to drink water on its own, mix it with a little fresh fruit juice.
9 PACKED LUNCH IDEAS
As you will see below, I follow the same pattern for each packed lunch - an energy sustaining main, one fruit portion, one vegetable portion, 1 dairy (or dairy alternative) portion, 1 drink, and for bigger appetites/very active kids an additional energy sustaining snack. These are all small portions, relative to the child's age, giving them a variety of different foods to cover a broad range of nutrients. Pick and mix up the ideas below for many more healthy lunches.