EVERY parent’s approach to packed lunches is different, with food choices regularly causing debate on social media.
Many schools now even issue comprehensive lunch box guidelines, but some parents say the policies only pile on pressure and cause anxiety.
With the new academic year around the corner, Fabulous spoke to Charlotte Stirling-Reed, The Baby & Child Nutritionist, to find out what really matters when it comes to packing your kid’s school lunches.
She said: “Ideally, you need to think about offering your child a balance.
“Lunch boxes will make up a fair proportion of the food children will eat throughout the day.
“It needs to be OK to last until lunchtime, be something ideally they are likely to eat, have leftovers for snacks (if appropriate) and offer a balance of good foods to ensure they get plenty of nutrients and energy to get them through a busy, tiring school day!”
What to include
While it may sound like there’s a lot to think about, it gets a whole lot simpler when you realise that translates to a portion of carbs, fruit or veg, protein and dairy every day.
“Ideally, a child’s packed lunch should include each of the four main food groups, to ensure that children are offered a balance of foods and nutrients for their lunch,” explains Charlotte
A portion of starchy carbohydrates.
For example, bread, a wrap, flatbread, crackers, a bagel, pitta, pasta, potato, rice or couscous.
“Include a combination of white and whole grain options, such as brown rice, pasta and bread,” says Charlotte.
“And try to provide a variety over the week.”
A portion of fruit and a portion of salad / vegetables
The key here is that they’re bite-sized and pre-prepared!
This could include things like tomato in a sandwich, chopped grapes or a fruit salad.
A portion of protein / iron-rich food.
Protein doesn’t have to mean meat or fish.
Beans, pulses, eggs, or meat-free alternatives work, too.
Charlotte says: “Tinned fish such as salmon or mackerel is a cheap and convenient option, just make sure to check for bones.”
A portion of dairy food
Think plain yoghurt, cheese or milk.
Charlotte says: “You could try making a quick tzatziki-style dip with thick plain yoghurt, grated cucumber, chopped mint and lemon juice for dipping pitta bread fingers or pepper sticks.”
Finally, don’t forget a drink.
To keep busy, active kids hydrated – especially in hot weather – Charlotte recommends tap water or plain milk.
What to avoid
Charlotte advises checking your school’s policy on this as they usually differ.
She says many schools recommend leaving out:
- Foods with added sugar such as sweets, biscuits and cakes
- Foods with added salts such as crisps and processed meats
- Drinks with lots of added sugars such as fruit shoots or fizzy drinks
Some schools also ask that parents don’t include allergens in lunch boxes, especially nuts and peanuts.
Examples of a week of school lunches
A week’s worth of school lunches could looking something like this:
DAY ONE: Wholemeal bagel with cream cheese, tinned smoked mackerel (always check for bones), cooked courgette and blueberries (halved for babies and younger children).
DAY TWO: Oaty cheese roll and sides of beetroot, boiled egg and fresh orange slices.
DAY THREE: Couscous made using frozen parsley, lemon juice, black pepper, extra virgin olive oil and tinned chickpeas, served with pots of raisins, feta and raw crinkle-cut yellow pepper.
DAY FOUR: Wholewheat penne pasta salad with chopped cucumber and sides of salmon, plain yoghurt, tinned, chopped mango, and water.
DAY FIVE: Wholemeal wrap with leftover falafel and roasted pepper, sweet potato wedges, a pot of plain yoghurt and some frozen strawberries that will have defrosted by lunchtime (quarter them if using fresh).
A bit of creativity will help ensure that whatever you put in your child’s packed lunch will actually get eaten.
Charlotte says: “I like to think outside of the box a little when it comes to lunch boxes, to jazz them up, offer variety and stop little ones getting bored.
“Of course sandwiches with fillings, some fruit and yogurt is also fine, but do try to vary parts of your kid’s lunch and make sure you’re ticking off the four main food groups!”
In other parenting news, an expert has claimed that this is what a kids lunchbox should look like.
We also shared how an organised mum sparks debate after sharing photos of her kids’ packed lunches which she makes at 3am on Sunday mornings.
Plus organised mums share how they’ve breezed through back-to-school panic with labelling and lunchbox prep.