Keep the kids happy with these lunchbox winners
Discover a selection of kids’ lunch options that are healthier than you might have imagined.
Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the latest thinking on which foods are healthy.
We speak to accredited practicing dietitian Gemma Cosgriff to help cut through the confusion and find out some healthier options to pack in your child’s lunchbox ?
A four-year-old child should be consuming around 700mg of calcium a day, rising to 1300mg by the time they’re 13 . And cheese is an excellent source of calcium with roughly 160mg of calcium in a single slice of cheddar cheese. “While cheese can contain a bit of salt, opt for as many white varieties – feta, ricotta, cottage – as you can, along with some hard cheddar,” advises accredited practising dietitian Gemma Cosgriff. “For children, calcium and protein are very important for growth, and cheese is a handy, quick and easy snack for them, as well as a good addition to sandwiches, rice cakes or salads.”
There has been years of debate about whether the humble egg is good or bad for us. But most recent research has come down on the ‘pro’ side, suggesting eggs do more good than harm . And for their size, they pack a nutritional punch, with protein, vitamins A and D (one of the rare food sources), folate, riboflavin and omega-3 fats. “These are important for growth, bone strength, immune function and vision,” says Cosgriff. A whole boiled egg in a lunchbox is ideal, but she also suggests slicing or mashing one to put in a sandwich, pita pocket, on corn thins or in a salad. “One each day during the school week is a healthy intake.”
Health-focused parents naturally want to feed their children as little sugar as possible, but none of us wants to see a lunchbox that hasn’t been touched at the end of the day. Homemade treats are a good compromise – and the healthier, the better. “Look at your ingredients and try to use more natural wholefoods where you can,” Cosgriff advises. “A good example is replacing sugar with some pureed apple. Or include olive oil rather than butter/ margarine, if it doesn’t impact the taste too much.” Think muffins with fruit or vegetables; sugar-free banana bread made with wholemeal flour; or a healthy date and walnut loaf (just keep an eye out for how many dates your recipe recommends).
Fast food, Middle Eastern style
That kebab loaded with sauces, cheese and sour cream hardly represents the pinnacle of healthy eating, but your local Lebanese takeaway also serves up two great inspirations for lunchbox options – falafel and tabbouleh. Chickpeas are the main ingredient of falafels, and are a brilliant source of dietary fibre, folate, calcium and iron , and they’re easy to whip up at home. Most falafels are fried in oil: the healthier option is to bake them, with a light brush of oil. Tabbouleh, made from bulgur wheat, parsley, mint, garlic, tomatoes and spring onions, packs a great nutritional punch, too. Squash a few falafel on pita bread, spread with tabbouleh, add a dollop of hummus, and you’ve got a lunchbox treat they’re sure to love .
Gemma’s top lunchbox tips:
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- Buy packaged foods that have been processed as little as possible.
- Shop at markets when you can as the food tends to be fresher and hopefully has fewer additives, .
- Cut food into interesting shapes or prepare it in a way that is appealing and fun to young eyes.
- Where possible, make your own items and reduce the salt and sugar content. Healthy fats are encouraged.
- The more natural colours the better: aim for a rainbow of colours over the course of a week: a red apple, say, green celery and eggplant dip for the indigo.
- If buying packaged food, download the FoodSwitch app for an easy way to read food labels and find healthier alternatives.