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The importance of a healthy lunchbox

Life is hectic. Our busy, fast paced schedules often mean there are just not enough hours in the day. Finding time to shop for, prepare and pack nutritious, appealing lunches for our kids can be a major challenge for many parents. Kids can be fussy and coming up with new and interesting foods that aren’t full of sugar that won’t get thrown in the bin can be tricky. But the importance of packing a healthy lunchbox is immeasurable. Kids are more alert and focused when they’re fuelled with healthy food. Higher levels of sustained concentration mean that kids can more readily retain information and therefore learn. What’s in their lunchbox can make up to a third of their daily nutrients and provides all of the energy they need to get through an action packed day. A lunchbox filled with sugary, fatty food doesn’t provide long lasting energy or necessary vitamins and minerals, and can be a major contributing factor in whether a child will be overweight or obese.

Here are some ideas to get your kids on the path to healthy eating

Pack a balanced lunchbox

Try to include all of the food groups – a piece of fresh fruit, crunchy veggie sticks, protein like egg or lean meat, a dairy option can be yogurt or cheese and a carbohydrate like bread or a wrap for example. If you’re time poor, prepare food the night before and freeze it so that it’s ready to go in the morning. Encourage children to choose items for their lunchbox so that have a sense of empowerment about what they’re eating. Praise them when they make healthy choices.

Get creative with adding vegetables into family meals

It’s actually quite easy to add in veggies without them even knowing. Try adding grated carrot, zucchini and celery for easy, extra veggie servings and use fresh tomatoes and herbs in sauces.

Encourage your kids to try new tastes and flavors

Kids can be extremely fussy, but the sooner they try new and interesting produce like fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices the more likely they are to continue eating them, as kids eat what is familiar to them.

Cook with your kids and buy less take away meals

Make preparing and cooking meals a fun, family activity and talk about the vegetables and produce being used. With our busy, fast paced lives we are often time poor and cooking dinner is the last thing on the long list, but it’s important to try and make time to cook with real ingredients and teach kids the value of making a nutritious meal for themselves.

Keep unhealthy snacks out of the pantry

It’s much easier to say no when you don’t have to. By simply not buying unhealthy snacks they won’t be in the pantry and your kids won’t pester you for them – out of sight, out of mind.

Lead by example

Kids take their cues from us and learn by observation. If we are making unhealthy food choices and leading inactive lives they will naturally assume this to be normal behavior. We as parents need to take responsibility for the health of our children by doing the right thing ourselves wherever possible.

Talk to your kids about why it’s important to eat well and treat your body well

Don’t assume your children know why they should eat a healthy, balanced diet. Educating kids on why it’s important to eat well and look after yourself is key and not just something that should be left up to teachers. The earlier kids develop a positive relationship with food the more likely they will carry it through to a healthy adulthood.

Foods to put in a lunch box

Suggestions include:

  • Fresh fruit

  • Crunchy vegetables

  • A meat or protein food such as slices of lean meat, hard boiled egg, peanut butter or nut paste*

  • Dairy food such as a cheese stick or slice, grated cheese, milk or yoghurt

  • Starchy food such as bread, a roll, pita or flat bread, fruit bread or crackers

  • Water

Practical issues for busy families

Foods should be simple and easy to prepare, ready to eat and appetizing after several hours storage in the lunch box. Foods such as sandwiches can be prepared the night before or on the weekend, frozen, then taken for each day’s lunch box. Suitable foods to freeze include:

  • Bread

  • Cooked meat

  • Cheese

  • Peanut butter

  • Edamame

  • Mashed eggs

Best drinks for lunch boxes

Water and milk are the best drinks for children. They can be frozen to help keep foods in the lunch box cool. Sweet drinks such as fruit juices, juice drinks, cordials, sports drinks, flavored mineral waters, soft drinks and fizzy drinks are high in sugar and not necessary. These drinks can increase the risk of tooth decay, are filling and may take the place of healthier foods.

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