When I went to school, many years ago now, I always took a packed lunch! There was never anything too fancy in it, but thanks to my darling mum it was jam-packed with wholesome, unprocessed food, and I looked forward to lunch break every day.
Sometimes I feel sorry for today’s mums and dads, who are under enormous pressure from schools, society and even their children to produce designer lunches with a five star health rating each day. Some schools even ‘police’ children’s lunch boxes, and actually tell parents what they can and can’t pack into a lunch box! While schools may be well intentioned with this, surely it is up to parents to make the decision as to what their child eats, and not to be made feel guilty about their efforts.
Granted, items that are included in packed lunches should be healthy choices, as these give the best nutrition which ultimately assists to provide children with the energy requirements they need to cope with both the mental and physical aspects of their school day. Grocery items can be expensive, and coming up with fresh and innovative lunch box ideas to avoid boredom can be difficult; but there are many ways to keep children happy about what is in their lunch box each day without blowing the budget or sacrificing good nutrition.
Probably the most important thing to remember is that the packed lunch is for your child. You are not in competition with other parents, nor should you feel under pressure to compare your efforts with others.
Know what your child enjoys eating and cater to their needs in a healthy way. Include them in the decision-making about food choices, and involve them in preparing their lunch each day. Remember the good old Healthy Food Pyramid and you can’t go too far wrong. Occasional treats including homemade muffins and slices are okay.
Fresh food is often much cheaper to buy than highly processed, single packet items, which are often full of saturated fats, have high sugar content, and are packed with unhealthy levels of salt; not to mention how expensive they are. Seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables are cheaper to buy and make excellent nutritional sense. Full of colour and different textures, they can be pre-cut into bite-sized pieces and shapes that are appealing to children of all ages.
Sandwiches are always a practical inclusion in a lunch box, as they are convenient, portable and delicious to eat. Make them with healthy fillings out of the best bread you can afford, and mix it up by using wraps and rolls.
Add some protein. Hard-boiled eggs, small tins of tuna, leftover roast meat, chicken drumsticks and cold cuts are all excellent choices. Don’t forget the dairy! Cheese, natural yoghurt, milk and dips made from cream cheese are some good options.
Pre-cut fruit, vegetables and cheese and store in airtight containers in the fridge for easy packing in the morning. Try buying items like yoghurt in bulk so you can divide them into smaller portions. Leftovers from dinner the night before make yummy lunches as well.
Water is the best drink. Freeze it in a reusable bottle each night. Add a squeeze of lemon or lime if your child likes it, and they will have a very refreshing drink on hand the next day.
Happy packing everyone!
Karen Carter is Co-Director at Kip McGrath Education Centre Burpengary, providing professional tuition by qualified teachers in Maths and English for Primary and Secondary students. Visit www.kipmcgrath.com.au/burpengary or phone 3888 2332 for a free assessment.