What should be in your child's packed lunch? Ideas for a healthy lunchbox

What’s in your child’s lunchbox?

Are you one of those much-envied parents who creates tiny pandas out of rice and ticks off their child’s five-a-day with carefully constructed veg designs?

Or are you more of the ‘chuck a sandwich in a bag and hope for the best’ type?

If you fall into the latter category – or have ever feared the judgment that your kid’s meal isn’t good enough – you’re certainly not alone.

A recent study by Leeds University found that just 1.6% of children’s lunchboxes were classed as healthy enough. As a result, some schools wi soon be teaching parents how to whip up the perfect packed lunch.

The study found that instead of fruit and vegetables, many packed lunches contained items such as jam sandwiches, sausage rolls and chocolate – foods deemed as having little or no nutrition.

But what should be in your child’s packed lunch? And how do you make sure everything your kids need is in their lunchbox?

‘Children need a variety of nutrients to thrive,’ Hannah Hope, a registered nutritionist, tells Metro.co.uk. ‘They need a mix of good protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, plus fruit and vegetables, to provide those essential vitamins and minerals, with carbohydrates giving 60-70% of their dietary energy and healthy fats giving 25-30%.

‘Protein is essential for all growth and functions within the body, and it needs to increase as children grow. From 19.7g a day for a child aged four to six to 42.1g a day for an 11–14-year-old.’

Ideally, a child’s packed lunch would include all these elements, but what does that really mean to you and me? Here’s what Hannah says should be in your child’s lunchbox.

‘Lean meats, eggs, cheese or full fat natural yoghurt are all great sources of protein and wholemeal bread or pasta for carbohydrates,’ he says. ‘Healthy fats include seeds, oily fish, olives or hummus and good vegetables to include are pepper, carrot, and cucumber sticks.’

And how do you turn these things into something tasty to eat? Hannah suggests trying the following.

Healthy lunchbox ideas for children

  • A bento style lunch – Chunks of cheese, chopped fruit (apple, grapes, satsuma, with dark chocolate chips), veggie sticks such as peppers, carrot and cucumber, crackers or slices of wholemeal pitta and a pot with some hummus in.
  • Soup – Make a healthy soup at the beginning of the week – load it up with beans or lentils, some wholemeal pasta and veggies, and put in a Thermos container. Serve with a wholemeal roll.
  • Tortilla wrap – Preferably wholemeal, load it with slices of lean turkey, cream cheese and spinach or tinned tuna or salmon with sweetcorn and baby gem lettuce. To make it easier to eat, cut the wrap into pinwheels. Pair with some chopped fruit and a homemade muffin or flapjack, which if you have time can be made at the beginning of the week.
  • Wholemeal or Best of Both sandwich – Fill it with cheese, sliced egg or egg mayo or turkey, with a side of cherry tomatoes, cucumber sticks, a handful of pretzels, some fruit and a full fat yoghurt.

What about something to drink? Most schools only allow water, but what if your child doesn’t like it?

Hannah tells us: ‘Hydration is key when it come to concentration and attention in lessons. I would avoid sending in juice and try a flavoured water instead. This is very easy to make. Just slice a lemon, lime, or orange, pop it into a jug of water in the fridge and then decant into your child’s drink bottle each morning.’

How to get your child to eat healthy foods

A huge problem many parents face, though, is actually getting their child to eat healthier foods.

Not all children are fond of fruit and vegetables and often for parents it isn’t because of lazy parenting or a lack of knowing what to give, it is simply just a case of getting their child to eat something, regardless of whether it is healthy or not.

So, how can parents try and get a child who is picky about their food to eat more healthily? Catherine Hallissey, psychologist and picky eater expert, shares her tips:

  • Create a ‘yes’ list of all the foods your child likes
  • Categorise these foods into protein, carbs and fat
  • Get your child involved to create lunchbox combinations, aiming for a balance between the food groups.
  • Once this system is up and running, let them know that part of your job is to help them expand their list of food
  • Together, create a ‘stretch’ list comprising of food they are willing to explore and add one tiny portion to their lunch each day.
  • Let them know that there is no pressure to eat a ‘stretch’ food, their only job is to consider exploring it.
  • If they don’t eat the food, remind yourself that you have done your job by providing the food and they have done theirs by deciding what and how much to eat.

‘Remember, it is the parent’s job to provide the food and the child’s job to decide what and how much to eat – and everything works best when everyone sticks to their job,” Catherine points out.

Hannah adds: ‘If your child is really reluctant to eat a healthier lunch at school, then take away the pressure on you and them by giving them healthy meals for breakfast and dinner instead. Just try to avoid sugary laden foods.’

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