Angelique Panagos, a nutritional therapist, shares her back-to-school tips on what to include in healthy packed lunches for kids, to make sure they get all the nutrients they need without any added cost.
We all know it’s important that our children take balanced, healthy packed lunches to school, but let’s be honest – with the ever-changing, contradicting information out there, what is a healthy lunch?
Nowadays it’s hard to compete with marketing pressure as most adverts for kids’ food are aimed at ‘fun’. But, I am just going to say this now – a Nutella sandwich is not a healthy, balanced lunch no matter what the advert says!
While cooked school meals are getting healthier (thanks Jamie Oliver), children taking packed lunch to school may not be getting the same nutritional benefits. Research shows that packed lunches can be as bad as junk foods, containing high levels of sugar, additives and fat, while being low in protein, essential fats, fruit and vegetables.
Putting together healthy packed lunches that will help improve your child’s concentration and behaviour (their teachers will love you) need not be an expensive, time consuming task. You’ll be able to save money on school dinners and know exactly what your child’s eating.
What’s in healthy packed lunches?
A healthy lunchbox for kids should contain a balance of the following:
- Wholegrain carbohydrate (for energy)
- Protein (building blocks for growth and development)
- Fruit and vegetables (vitamins, minerals and fibre)
- Dairy products (calcium)
Wholegrains: Base each meal on a wholegrain carbohydrate – this adds fibre to the diet but is also essential for digestion, vitamins and minerals. ‘Refined carbohydrates’ like white bread or pasta won’t fill your children up for long. Use heavy grainy bread, pitta, tortilla wraps, granary rolls or a wholegrain pasta salad.
Protein: Add a variety of protein-rich fillings such as chicken, eggs, tuna, turkey, ham, tofu, beans and pulses. Every child has a favourite dinner; cook some extra and use it in their lunchbox the following day.
Fruit and veg: Healthy packed lunches should always contain fruit and vegetables. This is a good way to get children into the habit of eating ‘5 a day’. Apples, pears, bananas, carrots, tomatoes, cucumber and celery are all healthy, economical choices.
Dairy: Dairy products are a good source of calcium – which our kids need for healthy teeth and bones – although processed cheeses and spreads are not included: There’s more calcium in spinach than in some processed dairy products!
Water: Water helps with concentration and is available free from school instead of wasting money on fizzy, sugary drinks. Not all kids love water, so you can try diluting some fresh fruit juice in a flask.
Treats: Everyone enjoys an occasional treat – this doesn’t need to be expensive. You can add a pot of raisins, a slice of healthy fruitcake, crackers and peanut butter, a few biscuits or you can even make ‘ants on a log’ (celery filled with peanut butter, topped with raisins).
How to keep lunchbox costs down
The trick to keeping lunchbox costs down is to buy in bulk.
Get hold of some colourful containers and sports bottles that can be bought at very low prices from supermarkets. Reuse these every day so you avoid the ‘little snack pack’ trap.
Buying a large pot of natural yoghurt (about £0.16/100g) and portioning it with toppings of your choice like fruit, nuts or honey is a healthier, cheaper option than sugary snack pots (about £0.30 per 100g). The same goes for cheese, fruit, veg and juice.
Avoid small kids’ fruit portions and pre-cut products, which are more expensive. Instead, cut up an ordinary piece of fruit and pop it into one of your containers. Or you can make a large fruit salad and add a portion a day to the lunchbox – this keeps well in an airtight container with a lemon cut into quarters to stop fruit from going brown.
Pre-packed cheese portions may seem convenient but they do clock up the cost. A pack of 12 cheese strings costs about £4. A block of cheese costs less and goes a lot further. Cut the cheese into matchbox-sized portions.
With all the money that you save, who knows, you may even be able to treat yourself and your healthy kids to some fun days out!
Angelique Panagos is a Nutritional Therapist whose mantra is: “The food we eat affects every cell in the body, making the difference between feeling 'all right' and feeling 'great'!” As a devoted foodie and health nut Angelique will inspire you to make the changes needed for your family’s health and vitality!