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Back to School – healthy lunch tips and ideas for busy parents
It’s that time of year again when the iron never gets the chance to cool as you spend hours pressing all those crisp white shirts and blouses and iron on what seems like hundreds of name tags into bags and blazers and a seemingly endless pile of shirts, trousers, skirts and sweaters. But once the task of preparing all the new school uniform is done and PE bags and school bags are packed with all the kit and stationery, your mind will naturally turn to grocery shopping for those all-important packed lunches.
Depending on your child’s preferences, your mind will undoubtedly be pondering the question – how on earth am I going to provide a healthy, balanced and nutritious lunch each day – whilst keeping the boredom at bay – to ensure that food is eaten, not binned?
Check out our six tips for successfully packed lunches
TIP 1: Keep it fun
Image Credit: Flickr, Melissa
Take your child out shopping for a novelty lunch box or two – keep an eye out for the bento-style compartmentalised kind, which is ideal for separating off a tasty selection of meat, cheese, crackers, fruit and veg and whatever else your child enjoys, so they can construct their own lunch. You could add an extra layer of fun by investing in a set of novelty shape cutters so you can make shapes out of sandwiches, cheese and meat. To further maximise their involvement, enthusiasm and the likelihood of them actually eating their lunch, you could try getting them involved in the packing up process each evening or morning – time permitting of course!
Image Credit: Flickr, Melissa
For some fantastic bento-style lunch inspiration, check out anotherlunch.com on Pinterest.
TIP 2: Keep it realistic
While that recipe for quinoa, spinach, feta and black bean salad may sound delicious to us parents – and may score you brownie points with some of ‘those’ friends – very few children will actually eat this kind of food, let alone enjoy it.
By all means, let them taste it and decide for themselves but let’s be realistic – come up with combinations that your child WILL eat and actually enjoy – they have an absolute right to enjoy their food and most importantly of all, they need a balanced meal to get them through the school day, it’s no good to anyone if it comes back home with them untouched.
TIP 3: Keep it healthy and balanced
As we all know, children grow at a very rapid rate and it is therefore essential that they consume the correct balance of various food groups, nutrients and micronutrients essential for healthy growth and in support of both short and long-term health. For more information on getting the balance of foods and nutrients right for your growing child, view the British Dietetic Association’s Food Fact Sheet on Healthy Eating for Children.
Public Health England’s Eatwell guide is a useful visual tool to ensure you balance the proportions of fruit, veg, dairy, proteins and carbohydrates in your diet since children learn dietary behaviour from their family, you owe it to them to follow a healthy diet too.
TIP 4: Keep it fresh
Most of us get to the end of the week and find a bag of wilting salad leaves and possibly a slightly squishy bell pepper or a tomato or two in the salad drawer of the fridge.
Try to slot in an extra grocery trip mid-week for lots of fresh fruit, veg and salad ingredients, and fresh bread, wraps and rolls, so that you’re consistently packing a fresh and nutritious lunch. Purchasing these perishable items little and often is a good rule to go by, to minimise food wastage and to ensure optimum nutrients.
TIP 5: Stick to the banned list
Chocolate and crisps might be a guaranteed ‘eat’ but as any parent will know, UK schools now have a list of ‘banned’ lunch box items, including crisps, cakes, chocolate bars and sugary drinks – rules which are enforced with as much vigour as the lunchtime supervisors can get away with.
It makes sense to follow the rules, both for health reasons but also to spare your child the consequences – acute embarrassment and subsequent hunger – of having food confiscated in front of the entire dining hall. So stick to the list!
TIP 6: Tried and tasted
And last but not least, try out a few new lunch combinations at home to gauge what they genuinely like before you send them off to school with a new, unfamiliar and untested lunch. You could even knock up a quick food rating chart for them to put star stickers against their favourites – perhaps using a three-star rating system, tout comme le Michelin.
Kids love to get involved and younger kids love stickers even more, so make the whole process fun and they’ll be more inclined towards eating those lunches.
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