Every week at Carr Infants School in York, parents get together on a Thursday morning to discuss life, the universe and everything over a cup of coffee – all organised by a very proactive parent governor with an interest in community engagement. Last week, I was really pleased to be invited by the parents to run a group session on packed lunches.
Most parents will acknowledge that feeding their kids a healthy diet can be challenging, in an era in which we’re surrounded by heavily-marketed convenience foods, and conflicting media messages about what we should and shouldn’t be eating. This was reflected in the lively discussion we had at Carr Infants, with parents’ questions including faddy eating, portion sizes for 6 year olds, and why apples in pack-ups always comes home uneaten! Along with a number of fears about fats (margarine, palm oil, triglycerides, cholesterol), eggs, bacon and artificial sweeteners…
So, what should be going into a packed lunch? Try including all of the following types of food for a power-packed, healthy lunch:
Starchy foods – such as bread, pasta or couscous. They’re a good source of energy, and should make up about a third of our diet. Giving a variety of breads can help keep things interesting eg bagels, pitta bread, wraps and baguettes. Try and include wholemeal and seeded breads – they provide a useful source of fibre and slow-release energy.
Protein-rich foods – such as chicken, tuna fish, eggs, beans, hummus or nuts. Needed for muscle repair and growth, these can be used as sandwich fillings, in salads, or just on their own.
Dairy – an important source of calcium for teeth and bones, this could be cheese, yogurt, fromage frais or milk/drinking yogurt.
Vegetables or salad, and a portion of fruit – for vitamins, minerals and fibre. Try and vary these each day, and go for what’s in season to reduce your shopping bill. Strips of red pepper, carrot and cucumber batons, cherry tomatoes, and mangetout are often popular veg with children, and make a colourful addition to their lunch box. For fruit, berries, chunks of melon, kiwi, pineapple and mango are popular alternatives to the more ‘traditional’ apple / banana / satsuma offering, and they won’t go brown.
And don’t forget a non-sugary drink such as water, milk, drinking yogurt, fruit juice or smoothie. Plus a frozen cool pack to keep everything safely chilled.
Try and avoid fatty and sugary foods and drinks such as chocolate bars, sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks – your child’s school may not permit these in any case. Tasty alternatives could include a mini fruit muffin or scone, a slice of malt loaf, a pot of rice pudding, or dried fruit and unsalted nuts.
There’s no hard and fast rules about portion sizes, but think ‘me-size’ meals. Our energy requirements vary depending on our age, size, gender and how physically active we are – ideally kids will be guided by their appetites. The chances are, if your child’s a healthy weight and is growing properly, you’ve probably got it about right. (If you have any height/weight or other health concerns, seek the advice of a health professional).
It can take a while to make healthy changes – many parents find it easier to change one thing at a time in their child’s lunchbox, rather than all at once. After all, none of us want our children to go hungry all afternoon! Giving praise when they try something new can go down well, as canstickers and reward charts. Trying a wide range of foods at home with the whole family can also help, as can getting the kids involved in the preparation of meals. If peer pressure is making it difficult for your child – for example “everyone else is allowed crisps and sweets” – talk to the headteacher or school governors; they might consider introducing a packed lunch policyor a healthy lunch award scheme. Carr Infants School have a rigorously enforced ‘no chocolate/sweets/fizzy drinks’ policy, which the parents I met last week all felt was incredibly helpful.
Returning to the question of what to do if it comes home uneaten – stay cool, and try something different the next day! Don’t allow food to become a battleground – as soon as that happens, the kids have won. At the parents’ breakfast club at Carr Infants, I think that was one point we all agreed on!!
|References / Useful Links: 1. NHS Choices. Live Well. School Packed Lunches.www.nhs.uk/Livewell/childhealth6-15/Pages/Lighterlunchboxes.aspx [accessed 15/05/2013].
2. Children’s Food Trust. Packed lunch ideas. www.childrensfoodtrust.org.uk/resources/packed-lunch-menus-and-recipes [accessed 15/05/2013].
3. NHS Change for Life. Healthier Lunchboxes and Picnics.www.nhs.uk/Change4Life/Pages/healthy-lunchbox-picnic.aspx [accessed 15/05/2013].