Thursday 21 September, 2017

How to pack a healthy lunch kit for your child

The new school year officially begins next week for most students and the one thing that will be uppermost on the minds of parents will be their children's nutrition. 

With lifestyle diseases on the increase among the region's children, parents want to ensure their children eat a balanced meal that is delicious as well as nutritious. 

For busy parents, packing a lunch kit could be a challenge so we reached out to Paola Henderson, an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach based in Trinidad and Tobago for advice. 

"When packing a lunch kit, I like to think about what I would want in my lunch kit as an adult. If my lunch kit is dirty and unappealing aesthetically, or has food I dislike in it, I will tend not to eat it," she said.

"Especially with young children, a clean and appealing lunch kit can be a make-or-break between successful food day and an unsuccessful one. An important thing to remember when packing your child’s lunch kit is to try to pack a little bit of a lot of different things, and to remember that QUALITY is more important than quantity. The ratio 80/20 is a helpful hint. 80 percent of the lunch should be healthy foods that you are confident your child likes and has eaten successfully before, and 20 percent of the lunch kit should be new things to try that are similar healthy items’ that you would like to see them eat in the future," she said.

Henderson's advice to parents is to make meals fun by including a short note simply saying “I love you” or “Have a great day.”

Parents should also pay attention to the type of containers they pack their children's food in.

" I also like to provide containers that my children can open with relative ease to make mealtime at school a success. Your child’s lunch kit should most definitely be child accessible and he or she should have some say as to what goes in it," she said. 

Here are Henderson's five tips for a healthy lunch kit:

  1. Always include fresh fruit and vegetables
  2. Vary the selection to keep it interesting 
  3. Offer a variety of whole grain bakery breads, that is if you plan on giving your child a sandwich
  4. Use avocado or grass fed butter as a spread instead of margarine
  5. Look at the sugar content of juice packs
  6. Limit juice and always send a bottle or two of water
  7. Kids need a serving of protein at lunchtime. Ensure you include lean meats, eggs, nut free butters (for nut free schools)like sunflower or apple butters, chickpeas or tuna.

When packing lunch kits, Henderson's advice is to keep it fresh.  

"It's important to keep food in the lunch kit cold to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. Pack the school lunch in an insulated lunch kit and include a small freezer brick or freeze a bottle of water and pop it into the lunch kit to keep food cool," she advises.

Helpful tips for adding fresh fruit and vegetables in the lunch kits:

  • Kids like fresh fruit cut and ready to eat. Fruit salad is the ideal lunch kit solution; it’s colorful, easy to eat and bursting with vitamins.
  • Offer different seasonal fruits each day for a change in flavor, colour and texture.
  • Freeze fruits. Simply pop the frozen fruit into a small sealable plastic bag or airtight container.
  • If including whole fruit in the lunch kit, select the fruit that is a suitable size for a child to easily hold in their hand and eat (particular for younger children).
  • Peel and slice or cut fruit if possible and choose seedless varieties of grapes, watermelon, and oranges.
  • If you are adding tomatoes to sandwiches, place the tomato between fillings and not directly on the bread. This prevents the bread from becoming soggy.
  • When using avocado, mash or drizzle with a little lemon or lime to prevent the avocado from discoloring.
  • Mild tasting and crunchy lettuce varieties like iceberg and cucumbers are ideal for kids.
  • Add leftovers (or cook extra) roast pumpkin or sweet potato to sandwiches and wraps. Naturally sweet and with added antioxidants. Roasted vegetables team well with a range of fillings.
  • Make salads or salad sandwich fillings interesting by using a range of vegetables like grated carrots, snow peas, lettuce, cucumbers, baby spinach, celery, tomatoes and avocado.
  • Use a vegetable peeler to slice cucumber into thin ribbons for sandwich fillings