Packing a school lunchbox for your child can be much healthier than giving them money for the tuckshop or sending them to school with take-away meals. These foods are usually laden with unhealthy fats, salt and sugar. A balanced, heart-healthy lunchbox can help your children ensure they are getting sufficient nutrients needed for health, improve your child’s concentration at school, and help them form healthy habits that can help protect against obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke later on in life. And an added bonus is that it is great for the budget too.
Keep in mind these five essentials that make for a heart-healthy, balanced lunchbox:
- A lean protein – anything from tinned fish, a boiled egg, beans or lentils, to lean meats, such as skinless chicken or trimmed beef.
- A complex carbohydrate – this means choosing whole-grain or high fibre starches, such as whole-wheat bread or seed breads, whole-wheat pita breads or wraps, whole-grain crackers or whole-wheat pasta. These high-fibre options provide more fibre, vitamins and minerals and release energy more slowly.
- Reduced fat diary – such as low fat milk, unsweetened yoghurt or reduced fat cheese.
- Healthier nibbles – Try to include at least two different colours of fruits or fresh vegetables in the lunchbox. This ensures a variety of vitamins and minerals. Plain unsalted nuts provide protein as well as a good dose of essential fatty acids. Home-popped popcorn makes a great snack, or you can even include healthier treats occasionally, such as home-baked bran or fruit muffins.
- Water is still the best drink to include in your children’s lunchbox. Add some fresh lemon slices or mint leaves and freeze the bottle overnight as this makes for a refreshing drink, especially on those hot summer days.
Here are some tips for tasty lunchboxes when you’re working against the clock:
- If you are short of time in the morning, prepare your child’s lunchbox the night before and keep it in the fridge so that you can simply grab it on your way out in the morning.
- When cooking for dinner, make a bit extra and pack the leftovers into your lunchbox for the next day.. Leftover chicken can be added to a sandwich or whole-wheat wrap with grated carrot, lettuce, tomato and a slice of avocado for a delicious meal.
- Keep your kitchen stocked with convenient snacks that can be added to the lunchbox: small packets of plain, unsalted nuts, dried fruit, or small tubs of unsweetened yoghurt. Don’t forget fresh fruit. These are easy to transport, take no preparation and are packed full of vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Compiled by Jessica Bacon, Registered Dietitian at the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA