Lunchboxes in winter can be tricky – it can be very easy to resort to cookies and warm tuck-shop pies when the temperatures drop. Thankfully winter also offers us some fabulous in-season foods that can be comforting, healthy and delicious!
As always, lunchbox need to comprise 4 important food groups: (1) Fruits and vegetables for all-important vitamins, minerals and fibre; (2) low-GI starch for sustained energy, (3) lean protein to keep them full and growing, and (4) healthy fat for brain and hormone development.
Fruits and vegetables
Winter is that time of year when flu bugs abound and your little person needs all the protection they can get! Thankfully Mother Nature has seen to it that a plethora of antioxidant-packed fruits are in season during this time of year. Try to make sure that there is one seasonal vitamin C-rich fruit in the lunchbox – think oranges, naartjies, papaya, granadilla or kiwi. Just one of these fruits will provide the recommendation for vitamin C – pack them in ready-cut segments, a fruit salad with a dash of lemon juice (also a great source of vitamin C!), or a fruit skewer. Rosa tomatoes are great finger foods and are filled with vitamin C. Beetroot and carrot are also in season and brimming with antioxidants. They are easily sneaked into lunchboxes by grating them raw into sandwiches or wraps, or you can get creative and make a yummy beetroot chocolate muffin as a treat!
Not only is protein essential for maintaining and growing healthy tissues, but it is a vital part of our immune systems! Protein foods are also good sources of zinc and selenium, two essential minerals for healthy immune systems. Pack in a protein like boiled egg, chicken pieces from yesterday’s dinner, or biltong to keep immune systems strong. Seize this opportunity to include a high-calcium dairy serving – cheese is an easy addition for sandwiches, and a low-fat, unsweetened yoghurt will provide healthy probiotics for healthy tummies.
At last, avocado is in season and can be included in guacamoles and sandwich spreads for wonderful monounsaturated fats. Be sure to sprinkle with lemon juice and wrap tightly with cling-wrap to prevent enzymatic browning. The best lunchbox fat for immune systems are flaxseeds, full of anti-inflammatory omega-3’s for protection and brain development. Ground flaxseeds are easier to digest than whole seeds, so add some when baking lunchbox treats, into thermos flasks with soup, or simply mix into sandwich spreads. Alternatively, half a handful of nuts will provide omega 3s and antioxidant micronutrients such as selenium.
Low GI starch and starchy vegetables
Slow-release starches are important to give your child sustained energy throughout the day, and can also provide that “comfort” factor we all seem to want when it’s cold! This is a great time of year when the comforting starchy vegetables are in season and we can feast on sweet potato, pumpkin and turnip. Once again clever Mother Nature has packed these with antioxidants, especially vitamin A, to boost those little immune systems. Add them to lunchboxes by roasting cubes and adding to a salad, filling a thermos flask with root vegetable soup, or mashing them and using them in pumpkin bread or sweet potato pancakes. When cooking these vegetables, try to avoid boiling them as so many of the nutrients will be lost in the water – rather roast or steam them. When starchy veg aren’t an option, opt for a wholegrain wrap or pita, low GI bread, or Provitas, To add an extra cosy factor, grill or toast them in the morning and wrap in tinfoil, shiny side in, for warm meals at lunchtime!
Don’t forget a bottle or two of water. We tend to drink less in cold weather, yet hydration is always important, especially in the dry winter months of some South African provinces.
If you have a few extra moments, make a lunchbox snowman – Use a cookie cutter to make two circles from sandwiches, pancakes or cheese, and then form a snowman with raisin buttons, a scarf of dried fruit and a carrot nose. Occasionally add a treat. Include a love note or decorate the lunchbox with winter-themed stickers. Lunchboxes are about great nutrition for health, development, and being able to focus at school, but they’re also about having fun with food!
Some sample lunchboxes:
- Fruit skewer with kiwi and pawpaw pieces
- 1 low fat, unsweetened yoghurt
- 2 sweet potato and carrot pancakes
- Cheese and ham slices, layered on top of one another, rolled up
- Carrot and cucumber sticks with Rosa tomatoes
- 1 naartjie
- Handful of biltong
Wholewheat wrap filled with guacamole, chicken slices, grated carrot and lettuce, toasted and wrapped in foil[For guacamole: Mix mashed avocado with 2 tsp lemon or lime juice, ½ diced tomato, ¼ diced onion, ¼ crushed garlic and season with pepper, cilantro or chilli as desired. Serves 4.)