Dr Caitlin: How To Pack A Healthy Lunchbox For The Kids

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Dr Caitlin O’Connor of Tralee Medical Centre in St Brendan’s Park on how to pack a child’s lunchbox with healthy food…

Most children take a packed lunch to school, but making a packed lunch every day in the rush before school can become a real nightmare. How do you make a packed lunch healthy and still get your child to eat it?

A healthy lunchbox should help improve your child’s attention, behaviour and learning in the afternoon.

It should also contain a source of protein to keep children alert, complex carbohydrates for slow energy release, protein and calcium for growth, fat for staying power, and fruit and vegetables for vitamins and minerals.

Nutrition is important, but however healthy the food is, it won’t get eaten unless it’s tasty and appealing to your child. It’s a challenge to come up with something new to entice them to eat healthy food and bring a smile to their face after a long morning at school.

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I always think that variety is the spice of life and with a little effort there can be so much more to lunchboxes than sandwiches, crisps and chocolate biscuits.

Here are a few tips on making packed lunches fun, appetising and not take up your entire morning.

Prepare lunches the night before by making fillings or fruit compotes. You can also add additional flavours to last night’s left over pasta by adding some chopped ham or tomatoes.

Children are much more likely to eat prepared food, that takes little effort, so pop peeled orange (protected with clingfilm), or chopped raw vegetables wrapped in damp kitchen paper, into their lunches.

Make the food in your child’s lunchbox look so attractive that other children are tempted.

The Breads, Cereals and Potatoes group

These are energy foods, which help your child to work and play. They should be served with all meals, aim for more than 6 servings per day. A more active child will require more. Servings include a small slice of white/ wholemeal bread, medium potato, 2 tablespoons pasta/rice, and small breakfast cereal.

Fruit and Vegetable group 

These foods are particularly rich in vitamins and minerals, each with their own function, which is essential for good health. Aim for 4-5 servings per day at least. Servings include a piece of fruit, glass of unsweetened fruit juice, 2 tablespoons of cooked vegetables, salad or raw vegetables.

Milk, Cheese and Yogurt group

These foods are especially rich in calcium, which amongst other things helps build strong teeth and bones. Your growing child requires at least 3 servings from this group per day, which is equivalent to one pint of milk.

Servings include a carton of yogurt, 1oz cheese, 2 cheese singles and a glass of milk. Low fat milk can be used as the main source of milk only after the age of 2 years and skimmed milk should not be used under the age of 5 years. All types of milk contain the same amount of calcium.

Meats, Fish or Alternatives group

These are the protein rich foods which help your child, grow, repair damage and fight infections. They are also a great source of iron.

Children who eat their lunch at school find it easier to concentrate and behave better than those who are hungry.

10 Tips for Getting your Child to Eat their Lunch

• Try making their lunch colourful and interesting. Cut foods into different shapes and into small portions e.g. triangles of sandwiches, chunks of cheese, chopped mixed fruit.

• Vary the food from day to day, e.g. wholemeal and white bread (or half and half), rolls, pitta, crackers. You can fill these with a choice from the meat, fish or alternative (protein) group or with cheese.

• Something tasty like a favourite yogurt or fromage frais can be included.

• A piece of fruit or diced fruit is a quick snack for little break.

• A carton of milk is an excellent choice of drink and is available in many schools. Otherwise a carton of unsweetened fruit juice or a flask of warm soup or hot chocolate are good alternatives.

• Try alternatives to bread and rolls with pittas or scones. Encourage your child to have wholemeal varieties.

• Use salads like lettuce, tomato, and cucumber also in sandwiches/rolls to brighten them up and to help ensure your child gets a good balance of nutrients.

•Make sure the lunch you prepare is child friendly eg peeled oranges, chopped meat, etc

• Get your child involved in planning their own lunch as they are then much more likely to eat it.

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