The right fuel for learn­ing

The Observer - - BACK TO SCHOOL 2019 - EVE­LYN VOLDERS

SCHOOL starts back soon and par­ents and car­ers will be break­ing out the lunch boxes once again. For some, pre­par­ing food that kids will want to eat can be­come some­thing of a dreaded chore over time, so here are some sug­ges­tions to keep both you and the kids in­ter­ested in nu­tri­tious packed lunches.

The ideal lunch box should hold enough food to keep a child nour­ished dur­ing the day, and for most pri­mary schoolaged kids, this means a snack as well as lunch.

Many schools also have “brain food” or “fruit snack” time, when chil­dren can eat fruit or veg­eta­bles in the class­room, so this needs to be pre­pared as well. The only drink you need to pro­vide is wa­ter.

A healthy mix

Lunch should in­clude some car­bo­hy­drate-based food for en­ergy, such as bread (in slices or a roll), wraps, crack­ers, pasta or rice – in some form or an­other.

It’s a good idea to try to in­clude some pro­tein such as meat, chicken, fish, eggs, cheese, or yo­ghurt. And one or two serv­ings of fruit or veg­eta­bles will pro­vide vi­ta­mins and min­er­als as well as en­ergy.

For young chil­dren, fruit can be pre­sented in ready-to-eat pieces in small con­tain­ers or snap-lock bags. Cubes of wa­ter­melon or rock melon, chunks of kiwi fruit, or­ange quar­ters, small bunches of grapes are some easy op­tions.

Veg­eta­bles that are easy to take to school are cherry toma­toes, mini cu­cum­bers or cu­cum­ber sticks, car­rot and cel­ery sticks, snow peas and so on. These can be packed with a dip, such as hum­mus or tzatziki.

Tasty snacks

The mid-morn­ing snack can be cheese and bis­cuits, or a small treat such as a fruit-based muf­fin, some oat-based bis­cuits, such as An­zacs, or a whole­grain muesli bar.

A word of warn­ing about these snacks. Su­per­mar­kets carry an enor­mous range of com­mer­cial “lunch box snacks” but many are not good choices be­cause they con­tain a lot of fat and sugar. Be sure to read la­bels be­fore buy­ing, and select those con­tain­ing less than 600 kilo­joules per serve; around 10 grams or less of sugar per 100 grams; and five grams or less of fat for ev­ery 100 grams. It’s im­por­tant to keep in mind that com­mer­cial foods come with a large amount of pack­ag­ing that can be dif­fi­cult for small hands to man­age. They also cre­ate a large amount of rub­bish, and many schools have a “nude food” pol­icy that dis­al­lows pack­ag­ing and en­cour­ages re­us­able con­tain­ers.

A homemade ap­ple muf­fin, pikelets or An­zac bis­cuits will pro­vide the right nu­tri­tion mix and the en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly cri­te­ria. Make a batch dur­ing the week­end to have some­thing spe­cial for the week’s lunch­box, as well as hav­ing some fun to­gether prac­tis­ing maths and chem­istry skills when cook­ing.

The im­por­tance of keep­ing cool

Nu­tri­tion is not the only mat­ter of con­cern when it comes to lunch boxes, you also need to en­sure that the food you’ve pre­pared is safe for con­sump­tion by the time it’s eaten.

Few schools have re­frig­er­a­tion fa­cil­i­ties for chil­dren’s lunches so you need to con­sider keep­ing the food cool. An ice brick or frozen wa­ter bot­tle will help keep the tem­per­a­ture at a level that’s safe for food.

Some chil­dren have to leave school­bags on pegs out­side the class­room, so dur­ing sum­mer months, you might have to ad­vo­cate to al­low lunches to be brought in­side at the be­gin­ning of the day.

Cre­at­ing good habits

De­spite your best ef­forts, chil­dren will come home with food left in their lunch boxes. It’s a good idea to get them to empty the lunch box when they get home, and left­overs might even make a good after-school snack. There are many rea­sons why chil­dren might not eat – be­cause they’re not hun­gry, be­cause they’re too busy, or be­cause the food might take too long to eat.

Get­ting kids in the habit of tak­ing their lunch boxes into the kitchen straight after school means you can wash them and start fill­ing them for the next day while pre­par­ing din­ner.

Mak­ing lunch is part of be­ing a par­ent, at least dur­ing pri­mary school years, but it can be ex­haust­ing to come up with tasty treats ev­ery day. You can find good sug­ges­tions and recipes for lunches on var­i­ous web­sites such as here and here.

Plan­ning what foods to in­clude for the week, cook­ing a lit­tle ex­tra din­ner for left­overs, hav­ing enough favoured fill­ings, and fruit and veg­eta­bles as well as bak­ing healthy snacks all make the job eas­ier.

And in re­sponse to the in­evitable “ev­ery­one-else-has chips-in-their-lunch­box” whine, you can bor­row the stan­dard an­swer I’ve used for the 14 years I’ve been fill­ing lunch boxes – “that may be so!”. The Con­ver­sa­tion

Photo: ol­gakr

DE­LI­CIOUS FOOD: Healthy lunches are es­sen­tially for grow­ing bod­ies.

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