If you are worried about preparing a nutritional lunchbox for your children, or you don’t know where to start and find the whole thing a bit of a chore, read on.
Packing your kids’ lunches gives you an amazing opportunity to feed their developing brains with the best quality, vitamin and mineral packed foods possible. Eating nutrient-dense meals, while avoiding sugar loaded and processed ‘foods’, can enhance brain function, improve memory and boost brain development.
So, what does the ideal lunch box need to include?
It doesn’t need to be complicated at all. Here you are some tips and ideas to help you.
Aim to include one portion of each of the following:
- Protein: focus on lean, unprocessed (and organic if possible) meat, fish, eggs, seeds (most schools have a ‘no nuts policy’), beans and pulses. Proteins are essential for brain and body growth, maintenance and repair, as well as building muscles and immunity.
- Starches: choose complex carbohydrates which provide a readily available source of energy. Great options are: brown rice, wholemeal pasta, whole grain bread/crackers/wraps, oats, quinoa, buckwheat, and sweet potatoes. These are more nutritious than the refined carbohydrates like white bread, white pasta, muffins, and biscuits which are easily broken down and raise blood sugar levels very quickly. Unbalanced blood sugar levels can lead to energy dips, irritability, mood swings, and loss of concentration; not an ideal scenario, especially at school.
- Calcium: rich sources of calcium are dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese) but also green vegetables, seeds, dried fruits, shellfish, tinned salmon and sardines. We usually associate calcium with strong bones and teeth but this mineral is also important for muscle contraction, blood flow, and helping the body send messages throughout the brain and nervous system.
- Vegetables: carrots/peppers/celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, steamed broccoli/cauliflower florets, baby courgettes/corn, small pieces of beetroots can all be easily added to a lunch box. You can also add vegetables to sauces, soups, savoury muffins, flapjacks or frittatas. Try to include more than just one portion of vegetables per lunchbox and keep things interesting by rotating them so the kids don’t get bored.
- Fruit: most children enjoy eating fruit, so adding a whole fruit, a small pot of berries or a small fruit salad should be easy.
- Drinks: water is essential for all brain/body functions and it’s the perfect drink for a lunchbox. Cold herbal teas, diluted fresh juice, or a homemade smoothie are also good choices, but please avoid shop bought juices as they are sugar bombs with hardly any fresh fruit in them.
Some practical examples:
- Wholemeal pasta with mixed vegetables and peas. Carrots sticks and a plain yogurt with some blueberries on top.
- Red lentil veggie nuggets -these are very easy to make, but any leftovers from the previous dinner will work well- with a serving of sweetcorn . Cherry tomatoes and small mozzarella balls on a skewer. Apple slices.
- Mixed vegetables frittata (peppers, spinach, and mushrooms work well) with ricotta.
- Hummus on a whole grain wrap. Top with some cannellini beans, thin slices of cucumber and grated cheese. Baby courgettes and a small fruit salad.
- Homemade spinach and ricotta muffin (or any other savoury combination you prefer), beetroots cubes, and yogurt with pineapple pieces.
Get the children involved in preparing their own lunch boxes, experiment with different combinations and keep it simple, but varied, as much as possible.
With a little planning you can be a nutritional lunchbox pro too!
Zara Stella is a fully registered Nutritional Therapist and Health Coach. She is regulated by the British Association of Applied Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and is a member of the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Zara is passionate about food and she believes that nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated. She works with busy people who need support to make better choices so they can regain their health, feel amazing and live their lives to the full.