Below are some tips and ideas to hopefully reduce the stress around packing lunch boxes:
- Firstly, having a good breakfast is important for your child’s energy level and concentration. A good breakfast will reduce the pressure of providing too much in the lunchbox. See breakfast tips below.
- Keep it simple. Food doesn’t need to look like it’s been prepared by a chef.
- Whole, fresh food is best and is nutrient dense compared with processed packaged foods.
- Include low glycaemic index carbohydrates in place of processed sugary snack foods.
- Include a source of protein to help keep them full and maintain their concentration. Too often, lunchboxes contain little or no protein. Remember plant protein options too. See below for more detail.
- Include cut up fresh fruit and vegetables.
- If your child isn’t a big eater, limit the number of options provided as too much can be overwhelming. Of course, bigger kids need bigger servings.
- Encourage your child to help pack their lunchbox. They are more likely to eat what’s in it.
- Plan ahead and bulk cook some batches of healthy cupcakes, slices, savoury muffins etc and pop them in the freezer to use as needed.
- Kids like cute, little bite-sized finger foods that they pop in their mouth, so make mini muffins etc, or cut food up into small bite sized portions.
What are low glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates?
The GI is a ranking of carbohydrate foods from 0 to 100 based on how quickly and how much they raise blood sugar levels after being eaten. Low GI (<55) foods produce a slower, lower rise in blood sugar levels. Low GI foods will help your child to maintain their concentration for longer. Low GI foods are generally the less processed carbohydrates such as grainy bread, rolled oats, pasta, legumes, and dairy foods. More information and recipes can be found at https://www.gisymbol.com/
A nutritious breakfast should include a low GI carbohydrate plus a protein. Some breakfast options include:
- Greek Yoghurt with fruit and a tablespoon of pumpkin seeds or nuts
- Weet-bix or rolled oats with milk, top with fresh fruit, nuts or seeds
- Grainy or wholemeal toast topped with eggs or baked beans
- Toasted sandwich with a protein filling such as cheese, chicken or ham.
- Vegetable omelette or frittata with a piece of fruit or cup of milk
- Wholemeal English muffin topped with nut butter
- Breakfast wrap, e.g. smoked salmon and avocado, or ham and cheese
- A quick simple smoothie, 1 cup of milk, 1 tablespoon of Greek Yoghurt, ½ cup of fruit, 1 tablespoon of almond butter blended together.
Lunch box ideas
Remember the following checklist to include:
- a Low GI carbohydrate – whole grain bread, crackers, or baked goods, pasta, milk or yoghurt,
- a protein source – animal (chicken, meat, fish, yoghurt or cheese) or plant (legumes, seeds, tofu)
- fresh fruit and vegetables
- water or plain milk*
- Yoghurt (no added sugar), e.g Tamar Valley pouches are a great source of important nutrients and are low GI plus protein in one product. Keep cold with an ice pack.
- Sandwich or wrap with salad and protein (e.g. cheese, chicken, tuna, egg, tofu)
- Thermos container of leftovers with a low GI carbohydrate and protein, e.g. spaghetti Bolognese, pasta with chicken or tuna, fried rice with egg, corn, peas and ham, Thai chicken meatballs and noodles.
- Sushi with salmon, tuna or tofu filling
- Wholegrain crackers or rice/corn cakes with cottage or ricotta cheese and salad
- Fruit salad and Greek yoghurt sprinkled with seeds
- Hummus or white bean dip with carrot and cucumber sticks
- Smoked salmon, or tinned tuna and light cream cheese on wholegrain crackers or rice cakes
- Cubes of cheddar cheese and wholegrain crackers
- Plant proteins such as edamame beans, four bean mix, roasted or dried chickpeas
- Home-made pikelets (made with wholemeal flour with, or without, added fruit, e.g. blueberries)
- Home-made Low GI cupcakes, biscuits or slices – see recipes here https://dietitianforkids.com.au/category/recipes/
- Cheesy quesadilla with beans (e.g. black beans, red kidney beans, or cannellini beans)
- Savoury muffins
- Pumpkin scones
- Home-made popcorn, popped on the stove with olive oil
A note on packaged foods:
- It’s OK to pack one packaged snack in your child’s lunchbox as long as it has some nutritional value, for example, a muesli bar made with wholegrain oats is better than an LCM bar or Tiny Teddies.
- *some flavoured milks are OK too. Dairy foods are highly nutritious for kids. The nutritional benefits of flavoured milk outweigh the small amount of sugar that is added if the rest of the lunchbox doesn’t contain sugary processed foods.
- Learn to read labels to compare products. Check the amount of sugar per 100g to compare products as serving sizes will differ. Also look out for added sugar in the ingredient list. Ingredients are listed in order of quantity, the higher up the list the more sugar is added.
When baking, remember the following:
- halve the amount of sugar in the recipe
- swap all, or half, the flour for wholemeal flour
- increase the nutritional content by adding seeds or nuts (ground, whole or nut butters). Use seeds instead of nuts for lunch box-friendly versions.
- In cakes, swap the butter for a plant oil e.g. canola or sunflower oil
Below are a few websites with healthy lunch box recipes and ideas.