Healthy Back to School Lunches – That Children Will Love!
Photo credit: www.personalcreations.com
It’s back to school time again which means it will soon be back to bedtime routines, school uniforms & packed lunches. We know parents want to provide snacks that are both nutritious & delicious but this can sometimes be a challenge. Therefore we asked our fantastic team of chefs to give us some guidance on creating a healthy packed lunch that children will also love. Here are their top tips…
1. Plan Ahead to Ensure a Balanced Diet
Planning ahead will help save time during the new school term and will also help parents to create healthy, tasty lunches that children will enjoy. In order to ensure that a child’s snacks are balanced and nutritious, it can be helpful to write out a list of options that incorporate all the main food groups – carbohydrates (for energy), protein (for growth & repair) healthy fats (for energy & absorbing nutrients) & vitamins & minerals. This list can then be placed on the fridge for easy referral and foods from each category can be rotated regularly. This will create variety for the child and will also help to ensure that they are receiving all the necessary nutrients they need to learn, grow and thrive. This list can also form the basis for the weekly shopping list, making the grocery shop that bit quicker and easier also!
2. Get Children Involved in Lunch Preparation
At Park Academy Childcare, our chefs love to involve the children in the preparation of their crèche meals, as they know that this makes the children more interested in eating them. Whether it’s using herbs from the children’s home garden in a Thai curry or baking bread with the pre-school gang, our team aim to educate children on where their food comes from and to ignite an interest in food and nutrition from a young age. By allowing their children to become involved in school lunch preparation, parents can also nurture this interest and promote a feeling of independence & achievement. Children will also be much more likely to eat healthy snacks that they have helped to prepare for themselves. Giving children a choice (for example between two types of fruit or vegetables) is another easy way to involve children in the lunch making process and this will also encourage them to eat what is in their lunchbox.
3. Make Healthy Foods Appealing
Like us adults, children eat first with their eyes & can be very influenced by the presentation of food. Therefore making healthy foods look appealing is the best way to encourage children to eat them. The following are some easy ways to do this:
- Make sure that food is fresh and appetising by investing in divided lunchboxes (that keep foods separate from each other and prevent soggy sandwiches or snacks), or silicone cases that will keep foods separate in a child’s lunchbox. In warm weather it can be a good idea to include a small icepack that will keep foods like meat cool and fresh.
- Create food skewers on lollypop sticks using fruit, vegetables, cheese, chicken pieces, prawns and bread.
- Use cookie cutters to cut sandwiches, cheese slices or fruit (e.g. melon) into fun shapes.
- Create small bite sized chunks of food that are easy for children to eat, such as cheddar cheese cubes, mini tortilla wrap rolls or melon balls.
- Try and introduce some colour where possible, for example swirling some raspberries through natural yogurt, sprinkling cheese or sweetcorn through pasta or adding beetroot to homemade hummus to give it an appealing bright pink colour (and to add extra vitamins & antioxidants!)
Our chefs also recommend buying a selection of quality food containers such as a sealable divided lunchbox, small airtight tubs, silicone cases, a flask & a non-leak bottle for homemade smoothies. This will ensure that food remains appealing and fresh throughout the day and that there is no risk of a mess when your child opens their bag! The yumbox lunchboxes are properly sealed and are therefore suitable for messier foods such as yogurt. They are a little more expensive than most lunchboxes but are ideal for pre-school and younger children because of their leak-proof guarantee. They come highly recommended by parents and the clips can also be replaced cheaply if they break during the school year, meaning there is no need to replace the whole lunchbox. See www.yumboxlunch.com or buy online at www.amazon.co.uk.
Photo credit: www.anotherlunch.com
4. Choose Homemade Snacks over Processed
These days supermarkets are full of a range of convenient lunchbox snacks but a lot of these can be heavily processed foods. At Park Academy Childcare, we are committed to providing our children with unprocessed, fresh foods that are free from additives like salt & sugar, as we know that these foods have a positive effect on children’s mood, concentration & overall health. Our chefs have a range of easy recipes for tasty unprocessed snacks, such as homemade hummus & super healthy shakes – perfect back to school lunchbox options. Homemade hummus is a great way to include protein in a child’s lunchbox & can be used as a tasty dip for vegetable sticks. There are also many other homemade snacks that can be made quickly & inexpensively such as cheddar cheese cubes, fruit kebabs or fruit and natural yogurt smoothies. See our chef’s list of suggestions here. By making snacks rather than buying them, parents will know exactly what ingredients their children are consuming and can therefore have a positive impact on the quality of nutrition they are receiving.
5. Variety, Variety, Variety!
They say variety is the spice of life and it definitely makes lunchboxes more interesting! By varying the type of foods your child eats, you are also ensuring that they receive a wide variety of nutrients, as different foods contain different vitamins, minerals, proteins and enzymes. A varied diet has also been proven to improve gut health, as different strains of good bacteria feed on different types of food. Therefore the wider the variety of foods we eat the wider range of good bacteria we will have in our bodies. Gut health affects immunity, mood & many other functions in the body so maintaining a healthy gut is important for both children and adults alike.
Besides the health benefits, children will also be more likely to eat and enjoy their lunch if there is regular variety. This can also encourage children to be more adventurous in their food choices, preventing them from becoming fussy eaters.
There are so many foods that can be adapted as lunch box snacks with a little bit of imagination and forward planning. An easy way to vary a child’s lunchbox contents is to choose a different fruit and vegetable to include each week, for example by replacing orange segments with pineapple chunks or giving children pepper strips or sugar snap peas instead of carrot sticks.
As an alternative to bread, parents can provide pasta, crackers or unsweetened cereal to supply a child’s carbohydrates or simply give children different types of bread such as wholemeal pittas.
Hard boiled eggs & hummus can provide an alternative from meats such as ham or turkey, as can nut butter (provided there are no nut allergies within the school).
6. Include a (Healthy!) Treat
We all enjoy a little treat throughout the day so they too have a place in a healthy lunchbox. There are lots of healthy treat options that you can include in your child’s lunchbox from sweet exotic fruits (like mango, pineapple or berries) to savoury treats such as popcorn & pretzels. Homemade treats such as oat flapjacks, muffins or banana bread are also a great choice, especially if made with healthy, unprocessed ingredients. You can also include jellies, a square or two of chocolate or some marshmallows, but just bear in mind that small quantities of these foods are best to avoid spiking a child’s blood sugar & affecting their energy and concentration levels. It’s also important to note that a child will most likely eat their treat foods first, meaning that the more treats they get the less time there will be to eat healthier foods. Therefore a little treat incorporated with the main lunch snacks is the best option.
We hope that this post has given you some ‘food for thought’ for the new school term!
Wishing all of our children & families a healthy & happy new school year, full of fun, new friendships & lots of learning.