The return of a New Year is a great time for parents and caregivers to give consideration as to what children are eating throughout the school day.
Research tells us that physical growth/development and healthy brain function are heavily influenced by the foods we consume. Furthermore, it makes perfect sense that in order to sustain a typical 6-hour day in the classroom, children need to start the day with a healthy breakfast and take a nutritious lunch box to school. Additionally, we must not overlook the importance of hydration, particularly during the hotter months.
Healthy food habits begin early in life and are first introduced in the home environment. We’ve gathered some of the latest recommendations from The Australian Dietary Guidelines to assist planning and implementation of healthy lunch box choices. They are based on scientific evidence and research.
5 Things To Avoid
• Foods high in salt, fat, sugar.
Crisps and other salty snacks
Sweet biscuits, cakes, confectionery, chocolate
Worth considering, is that while our children may relish at the sight of such ‘treats’ in their lunchbox, they are in fact not benefiting from their consumption. Eating these foods more often than not will result in feelings of sluggishness, lack of energy and particularly in the later part of the school day, inability to concentrate.
We’ve all heard of the sugar high and the later slump with no energy. In a classroom situation, this impedes learning and motivation.
• Sugar sweetened cordials, soft drinks and sports drinks.
For much the same reason as outlined above, consuming these drinks can result in high blood sugar levels and subsequent slump in energy.
As well, high consumption of sugar is linked with obesity, dental caries (tooth decay) and Type 2 Diabetes.
The development of a ‘sweet tooth’ begins early in life – best we avoid!
• Processed meats and sausages.
Processed meat is generally considered unhealthy. These foods have been linked with diseases such as cancer and heart disease. There is no doubt that processed meat contains many harmful chemicals that are not naturally present in fresh meat.
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• Food colours and additives.
Basically, we want to think of food as fuel for the body. The more we manipulate natural food, the less it resembles its original form and this alters its overall chemical composition. While our body removes toxins and eliminates waste products, it actually doesn’t make sense to add more work by filling it with unnatural food substances.
Students in a classroom require their minds to be still and focused. Natural food sources offer the best choices and reduce the risk of food reactivity.
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• Packaged items.
Preferrably avoid these as they often contain high levels of fat, salt, sugar and additives.
If these items must be chosen for lunch boxes, shop around and read labels so that choice can be based on the product containing the least amount of ‘no nos’.
5 Must Haves
• Choose everyday foods from 5 Food Groups
Vegetables – variety and colour are key – both for taste and appeal
Fruits – an assortment of different types of coloured fruits. It’s important that children enjoy these items, so those in season are usually freshest and best.
Grains – wholegrain and /or high fibre varieties of breads. Options can include flat bread, rolls and wraps.
Lean meats/proteins including turkey, chicken, canned salmon/tuna, eggs. Those interested in vegetarian options can include other options such as hummus, tofu, nuts/seeds or falafel.
Yoghurt, cheese – Chop, slice or add cheese to sandwich fillings.
• Include healthy fats
These are important for the growing boday as they not only provide energy and keep the body warm, but they also assist with the absorbance of fat soluble vitamins. Good sources include: avocado, cheese, nuts and eggs. With a little imagination and preparation, these can easily be added to lunchboxes.
• Variety and Interest
We know ourselves, eating the same foods day in day out tends to get monotonous. School aged children are no different. To alleviate lunch box drama, provide your child/ren with options to choose from. In this way, they feel a sense of control in what they are eating and this is more likely to result in the foods they take to school being consumed.
As well, taking children to the shops and giving them these same options of choosing food items, gives everyone a feeling of healthy compromise and negotiation. The end result is, a healthy lunch box and a healthy child.
• Adequate drinks/hydration
Water is the preferred drink as it is free of sugar, unwanted calories and helps keep the body hydrated.
Make sure the size of the drink bottle is large enough to last a day and will keep cool.
Finally, to ensure food stays fresh and cold throughout the day, an investment in a non-toxic cooler brick is essential. No point in having healthy foods from home that become contaminated from the hot summer weather.
Here’s to our healthy growing children
Further reading can be found at: