It’s 8.30 a.m. and you’re rushing to get your child off to school on time. Wait! The lunchbox isn’t done. You want to pack something healthy so you grab an apple, a tub of yoghurt with a cold pack and a spoon, and quickly make a grainy sandwich, add a spread and wrap it. You throw in a healthy treat just in case they’re extra hungry. Oops, nearly forgot the water bottle. You seize it and make it out the door on time. You’re busy and a tad forgetful at times but luckily you’ve read Lunchbox tips and tricks. Lunchboxes for kids who want to be brainy and strong You’ve read about the star quality ingredients that promote calm behaviour in children. Now find out how to chop up these food facts and pack them in your child’s lunchbox. Include in their lunchbox:
- 1–2 pieces of fresh fruit. Children need to eat 2 serves of fruit daily.
- 4 vegetable sticks. Children should have 4–5 different types of veggies daily (1–2 types with lunch if possible and at least 2 with dinner).
- Protein such as tuna, egg, chicken, lamb, beans, baked beans, chickpeas, hummus (chickpea and sesame seed spread), yoghurt or cheese (choose quality cheese, not cheese sticks or slices that resemble plastic or have artificial additives).
- Wholegrain carbohydrates such as grainy sandwiches and wholegrain crackers. Sourdough bread also digests slowly for sustained energy but it may be a little too chewy for the young ones. Pasta and basmati rice are also good ‘brain’ carbohydrates. Wholemeal wraps and pocket bread digest quickly so they need to be accompanied with a heavier protein filling and some salad.
- A water bottle. Preservative-free vegetable juice is also fine.
- Utensils if necessary.
- A cold pack (icepack/freezer pack). All protein foods must be accompanied by a cold pack, especially on warmer days. There is an increased risk of food poisoning if meats, eggs and dairy products are not kept cool.
- Variety! Always include a piece of fresh fruit, vegetable sticks, protein and quality carbohydrates in their lunchbox. However, make sure you vary what you pack each day so your child doesn’t get bored or become a fussy eater. If they do, you may end up being hassled for junk food.
FOODS THAT PROMOTE PROLONGED CONCENTRATION
- grainy bread
- sourdough bread
- grainy crackers with cheese
- quality meat (avoid poor quality deli meats and artificial preservatives)
Exclude from their Lunchbox
On the other hand, there are foods that are best kept for after school or special occasions as they can promote unfocused behaviour. I’ve also added to the list other undesirable foods that aren’t the best for your child’s health. They may be poorer quality, low in nutrients and high in sugar or salt. I’ve included them so you have the option of limiting or avoiding them.
- Limit fruit juice consumption and avoid soft drinks, sports drinks, flavoured milks, flavoured mineral water and cordials. While fruit juice is the better choice, it’s full of acid-promoting natural sugars and can cause tooth decay if consumed daily.
- Avoid all drinks that contain artificial preservatives, colours and flavours including artificial sweeteners.
- Limit dried fruits that contain preservatives (all dried fruit except sultanas). Avoid flat fruit leathers/strips as they contain additives and too much sugar.
- Limit breakfast bars and muesli bars which are high in sugar and contain artificial additives (this may be all of them). Numbers to avoid: 122 (carmoisine/azorubine) and 133 (brilliant blue FCF) and if your child has asthma avoid 220 (sulphur dioxide) which is used to preserve most dried fruits (as it can trigger an asthma attack).
- Avoid lollies, chips, store-bought cakes and chocolate (chocolate is rich in caffeine and sugar and can contain artificial colours).
- Limit or avoid processed lunch meats, especially deli meats as they contain nitrate chemicals, preservatives and poor quality meat.
- Avoid white bread. Try a variety of wholegrain breads until you find one that your child likes. Get your kids used to eating grainy bread and eventually white bread may lose its appeal as it begins to taste doughy and ‘fake’ in comparison.
The occasional treat is okay, however, keep in mind junk food can promote poor concentration during class. Here are some creative treats that may not be good for concentration but they do contain some goodness:
- 1 small home-made muffin or store-bought wholemeal muffin.
- 1 fruit bun containing cinnamon and raisins (preservative-free).
- Home-made cake with no artificial colourings or chocolate (birthday treat).
- 2 wholegrain corn or rice cakes containing linseeds, with protein such as hummus and chicken. * Home-made popcorn with butter and honey.
- Home-made Anzac biscuits.
FOODS THAT CAN PROMOTE POOR CONCENTRATION
- white bread, especially turkish bread wholemeal bread containing artificial preservatives
- rice crackers rice or corn cakes
- flat fruit leathers/strips
- packaged/cinema popcorn with artificial flavours other snacks with artificial additives
- *Refer to Chapter 6 for specific additives
Starting kindergarten or prep – what you need to know when packing their lunchbox
If it’s your child’s first year of ‘big school’ then you may need some additional lunchbox tips. Keep in mind it is normal for children to develop at different rates. For example, your child may be strong enough to open even the most difficult lunchbox and they may be able to eat an uncut apple, although they won’t want to bite into one if they have a wobbly tooth. Take from this list what is relevant to your child:
- Some lunchboxes are difficult to open so make sure your child knows how to open theirs.
- Label food for either ‘little’ or ‘big’ lunch so your child knows when to eat them. * Utensils are easy to forget. Always pack a spoon for yoghurt, beans or rice dishes, and a fork for salad or fruit salad.
- Tell your child to leave wrappings and leftovers in their lunchbox. This is so you can monitor how much they’re eating.
- Ask your child if they need more or less food at school. Don’t force them to consume too much as some kids end up eating during their entire lunch break and miss out on playing with their friends. This may make them feel isolated and resentful.
- Make sure your child can undo the wrappings. Yoghurt can be messy and the lids hard to remove so tell your child to ask the teacher on playground duty to help if they can’t open it themselves. Preferably buy a more suitable alternative.
- If packing potentially messy food also include a paper towel or cloth for them to use, and teach them how to wipe food off their clothes after eating.
- If your child has allergies let the school know. Also, educate your child by showing them a photo or real-life example of what they must avoid. You don’t want your child accidentally eating the potentially harmful food because they didn’t know what to look out for. Also tell them the hidden sources. For example, if your child has an egg allergy tell them what foods could contain egg such as cakes, pastries and creamy spreads like mayonnaise and dips and so on.
A special thank you to my daughter’s dedicated Year One teacher, Emma Ellwood, for supplying some of these valuable tips.
- Sweet jam pancakes: wholemeal pancakes served with high fruit content jam (with no added sugar). So you don’t have to rush in the morning, pre-make the pancakes from fresh ingredients the day before and add jam in the morning.
- Make a wholegrain sandwich look more appealing by using a cookie cutter to cut out a shape in the middle. Leave the shape in place or make mini sandwiches with them (see photo). Favour savoury fillings.
- Kids usually won’t eat soggy food such as tomato sandwiches or sandwiches stored beside a cold pack which later sweats. You can wrap a cold pack in a thin cloth or paper towel to prevent sandwich sogginess. * Make a tasty salad with cherry tomatoes, lettuce, celery, cheese, mango, and place in a sealed container. Remember to pack a fork. * Make an apple easier to eat by coring it and keep the core in place to reduce browning. Then cut wedges (some loose and some still partly attached). Use cling wrap to keep the apple together to reduce browning.
- Lemon juice also prevents apple slices from discolouring. * Fresh fruit is best, however, keep tinned fruit on standby in the pantry just in case you don’t get a chance to restock the fridge with the fresh stuff. * During the hotter months, a water bottle and yoghurt can be pre-frozen.
Examples of lunchbox combos
- Chicken sandwich on grainy bread with lettuce and Mango and Pineapple Chutney (see recipe on page 141); strawberries and blueberries; celery sticks with cream cheese (see recipe on page 138); a tub of quality yoghurt (low in sugar and free of artificial additives) and water.
- Lean meat and salad in pita bread; an apple; 4 sticks of red capsicum and carrot; a small wholemeal fruit bun and water.
- A wrap made with baby spinach, tuna and mango (see recipe on page 145); a bunch of seedless green grapes; one small peeled carrot (covered in cling wrap); 2–3 cubes of quality cheese on grainy wheat crackers, and water. • A ‘soy and linseed’ grainy sandwich with baby spinach, thinly sliced or shaved cheese and Pink Hummus Dip (see recipe on page 140); 4 grainy crackers with honey or sugar-free jam; 1 banana and a bottle of carrot juice (an additional bottle of water may be necessary). Let honey or jam be their occasional treat as they are rich in minerals and antioxidants and have a low glycemic index.
Your child may need more or less food depending on their age and appetite.
FAQ: ‘My child is not allowed to have lollies or chips in his lunchbox but he complains because other kids at his school are allowed them and he thinks this is unfair. How do I respond to this?’
You respond without guilt and with clever marketing comebacks: Say with kindness ‘That’s a shame; maybe his mum doesn’t know about the healthy brain foods that can make kids clever – you’re so lucky I know the best foods to help you be strong and clever.’ Or ‘I thought you wanted to be clever and strong? That’s why I pack brainy foods and muscle snacks into your lunchbox’. You can also add ‘Chips and lollies won’t make you strong and they can make it hard to think properly in class so we should keep them as an after school snack. Which afternoon would you like to be your junk food snack day?’ If your child still complains about not having junk food in their lunchbox then ask for time out by saying ‘I understand how much you want these snacks so let me think about it for a couple of days. I’m not saying no but I need time to figure out what’s best for you because I love you’. Kids know you really care when you take the time to seriously consider their wishes, even when you later say no.
Key points to remember
- Modify your child’s lunchbox contents to suit your child’s appetite.
- Consider the weather when preparing lunches. Meat and other protein foods go off quickly on hot days so pack a cold pack or opt for safer fillings.
- Ask your child’s teacher if you are packing enough food for your child and see if they have any food suggestions and tips. Teachers usually have had years of playground duty behind them so they see plenty of lunchboxes. * Pack some foods that are great for your child’s concentration.
- Tell your child you’ve packed them a ‘brainy big lunch’ and ‘muscle snacks’ so they are more enthusiastic about the healthy additions to their lunchbox.